Poor David Cameron. He’s had a tough time in his EU “renegotiation”. I guess it was harder than he expected. He’s failed at just about every point. No treaty change. No repatriation of powers. No control of borders – just a little fiddling with welfare benefits. And no substance in relation to “ever closer union” – changing the words is meaningless unless we also have a veto over new EU legislation. Nor is there any joy on regulation – just the usual assurances that deregulation is a priority. But then they’ve always said that.
It’s got worse for our poor Prime Minister. The press has been almost universally dismissive of his non-package. Serious commentators have pointed out that much in the package is not new – there is already a red-card system allowing a majority of member-states to send legislation back to the Commission, for example. Disturbing comparisons have been made with Harold Wilson’s “renegotiation” in 1974. A few trivial cosmetic changes, swept aside by the tide of history, and now long forgotten. Can you remember what they were? I can’t.
It’s true that the Europhiles won the 1975 referendum. No doubt Cameron hopes to follow that precedent. But times have changed. These days we understand the Brussels Leviathan. And unlike 1975, we now have strong voices in the media, in industry and in the trade unions speaking out for Brexit.
But Cameron’s travails continue. The proposed Tusk deal is merely a draft. The other 27 member-states are taking it apart, so it has to be renegotiated all over again. Meantime looking at the opinion polls, Cameron knows he hasn’t done enough, and Number Ten nurtures the forlorn hope that in can be strengthened.
Then the coup de grace. European parliament President Martin Schulz says that the final deal has to be approved by the parliament, and that the parliament will not consider it until after the referendum – for if Britain votes to leave, why should the parliament waste time on it? So the British public will be invited to vote on a deal that isn’t yet a deal, and if they vote to remain, they’ll have to wait and see whether they’ll be allowed to have what they voted for.
And in a disastrous faux pas, Cameron has infuriated his grassroots by telling his MPs to ignore them. This has been a key Tory Party problem for years – the tendency of the leadership to take the grassroots for granted, and to dismiss them as bigoted backwoodsmen. The shires are angry.
But in a brilliant stroke of generalship, Cameron fell back on the winning tactic of the Scottish referendum campaign:fear. If we leave the EU, he said, the French may renege on the arrangement allowing British Border Guards in Calais. “The Jungle” will empty as migrants flood into Britain, and we’ll have squalid migrant camps all over South East England.
It made headlines yesterday. But today as I write (Feb 9th) the Telegraph headline read “France: We won’t move the border”. At one blow, the Prime Minister’s scare tactic is scuppered.
Really, you would need a heart of stone not to laugh out loud.