It’s becoming clearer that Cameron knows he can’t achieve any significant outcome from his much vaunted “renegotiation” of our EU terms. The fact that he’s floated an earlier referendum date of 2016 (in an attempt to recover voters lost to UKIP) is evidence enough of that. There’s no time for a serious renegotiation.
So what’s his game plan? My feeling is that he’s digging himself a hole. Any concessions he comes back with (the old cliché: Neville Chamberlain waving the piece of paper: “It will be peace in our time”) will be nugatory, and will be ripped apart by the media. He speaks of Tory Cabinet Ministers being dragooned to vote “IN”. Not just “voting for the government line”. No. It’s simply taken for granted that the government will campaign for “IN”. Let’s hope that a few have the courage to resign rather than sell their birth right. But sound folk like Owen Paterson have already been summarily swept aside.
But there is another view. Even though the concessions will be trivial – acceptance of some curtailment of social security rights for new EU immigrants here, a couple of temporary opt-outs there – they may be talked up by sections of the media as a great breakthrough. Why? Because some sections of the media believe that UKIP’s success may leave the door open for a Labour (or Labour/SNP?) government, and they see a Labour government as a worse outcome than continued EU membership.
I find it difficult to believe that there will be enough substance in the renegotiated terms to spin it as a success. But there is a precedent. Harold Wilson’s 1974 “renegotiation” did precisely that. His concessions were so trivial that they are now forgotten, and certainly have no effect. Yet they swung the 1975 referendum in favour of “Yes”. Cameron hopes to repeat the trick.
So let’s put down some tests (as Gordon Brown famously did for the €uro!).. I don’t think that they would be sufficient, even if achieved, to justify staying in. But if they’re not achieved, no one should even consider supporting continued EU membership.
Immigration: Will we be able clearly and unequivocally to control our borders, and to decide who should be admitted (and who should be deported)?
Justice: Will our courts be able to decide on human rights issues without interference from European Courts? Will British citizens be protected from arbitrarily being sent abroad to foreign jurisdictions? Will extradition only be allowed with proper safeguards, and evidence tested in British courts? Was it not Enoch Powell who said “I hold that man or woman to be a scoundrel who goes abroad to a foreign court to have the judgments of the Queen’s courts overturned”?
Regulation: Will the British parliament be able to reject proposed EU laws and rules, and to repeal existing EU laws if it so chooses?
Energy: Will we in the UK be able to adopt a rational energy policy without regard to Brussels rules?
Agriculture: Will we be able to establish a British farm support régime designed in Britain for British farmers, instead of a régime designed in Brussels for French farmers?
Fisheries: Will we be able to reclaim the British waters and fisheries to which we are entitled under International Law?
This is just a start. But if any one of these conditions is not met, the renegotiation will be worthless. And of course as we know already, not one of these conditions will be, or can be, met. Brexit is the only way.