The news in today's Guardian and Mail is that David Cameron is thinking of doing a deal on the proposed new EU treaty. The reports suggest that Cameron will back the new treaty in return for his demands for a cash freeze to the 2011 budget.
We're not convinced that Treaty-change-for-less-cash is a line that the Government will pursue in the end. But if true, Cameron and his Government risk a mutiny not only from the Tory backbenches but the public at large. And it would be completely justified.
The prospect of a new treaty is rightly seen (and not just by us) as a once in a generation opportunity to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU and actually repatriate some of the powers the Conservatives promised they would less than a year ago, or pursue a number of other reforms - for example giving real powers over EU policy to national parliaments.
A one-year cash freeze on the EU budget simply doesn't cut it. Sure, the European Parliament's demands for a 6 percent increase are outrageous and have understandably attracted the headlines recently. But what about 2012 and 2013? There is nothing stopping MEPs, the Commission or even other member states demanding similar increases in these years and there would be little the UK could do about it.
And even the next EU budget period, the the one that starts in 2014, is best negotiated seperately. The UK already has its rebate as leverage in those negotiations. Making horse-trades involving Treaty changes is giving EU partners a 'two for the price of one' deal.
But besides this practical reason, the prospect of yet another 'behind closed doors' EU deal could be politically disastrous. After promising to repatriate powers, Cameron cannot shirk the first, and possibly only, realistic opportunity to do so.
It would certainly make his accusations of "betrayal", levelled at Labour and the Lib Dems for their backtracking on a referendum on Lisbon, look pretty hypocritical.