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Britain's Handbag Doctrine of Foreign Policy is a Good Starter but a Bad Finisher

09/07/2014 15:42 BST | Updated 08/09/2014 10:59 BST

In the words of Lord Ashcroft, former Tory vice-chairman and the party's unofficial pollster, the 'Juncker effect was short lived'. David Cameron might have enjoyed a moment of glory, among his back-benchers and in the green fields of middle England, as he returned defeated but unshaken after the Junckernaut rolled over him.

Like the days that followed the Fiscal Compact veto in December 2011, his reward of a poll boost started well only to vanish soon after. The 2014 dead cat bounce leaves the Conservatives back trailing Labour by seven points. Whilst the lead goes, back across the Channel the handbag doctrine leaves egos still bruised when the UK needs them most.

Yet, as organisations like British Influence never tire to point out, if only the UK did a better job at winning friends and influencing people, the UK could achieve serious reform in Europe. Not a wholesale repatriation of powers, but an agreement by member states to focus on the democratic, social and economic change needed to create a more prosperous continent.

And here is the paradox: whilst the UK had only one ally over Juncker at the European Council, it has many over the reform agenda. In fact all EU leaders at the Council signed up to a strategic agenda for reform which includes more subsidiarity and more power for the national parliaments, slashing red tape, pursuing global free trade agreements, reviewing the commitment to 'ever closer union' as well as completing the single market in digital, energy, transport, services and financial services.

Let's take this last point alone. Lord Livingston, the trade minister, is not short of the passion required to achieve this. If the UK and its allies can complete the single market, he recently said at an event I attended, the benefits to British businesses and jobs will be huge. The aim is to sell £1 trillion abroad by 2020 and the way to do this is to empower the 9,000 UK medium sized businesses which turnover up to £100m a year to get exporting more. If they do, the net benefit to the British economy could be up to £50bn each year.

This is not a prize that can be achieved by abandoning the single market and hoping for riches from beyond the continent. Not only is the job half done, British medium-sized business are under-performing in their biggest market. So far they sell only 16% of their product abroad compared to 30% of their Italian equivalents. Even in Central Europe the UK barely troubles the scorers with an anaemic 2% market share, compared to 6% for France. The rewards of completing the single market and forging free trade deals for a high-tech manufacturing and services economy like ours is up to 4% of GDP.

When he was running for party leader and in the early days before the financial crash, the PM knew the Conservatives could revive only through a message encapsulated as change, optimism and hope. Adapting those words to the upbeat zeitgeist of the time over climate change, poverty and localism, David Cameron changed the way the Tories looked and sounded.

He now needs to do the same on Europe. He needs a positive British policy end-point in Europe with visible member state support. At the very least, the government has to make sure that the reforms agenda just outlined in the European Council conclusions is delivered and that the allies required to do so are visible to the British public. This is now vital and not just for people on 'my side' of the argument but for Britain's future prosperity.