David Cameron is seeking to sell his “renegotiation” with the EU as a major breakthrough, an historic moment when our relationship with the EU is totally re-set, and our independence and sovereignty reasserted. It is no such thing.
Most of the points he is claiming are either already in place (the €uro opt-out) or meaningless (“ever closer union”) or irrelevant (welfare benefits) or hugely doubtful in terms of delivery (red cards, protections for non-€uro states).
In his famous Bloomberg speech, Cameron said “…we need to have a bigger and more significant role for national parliaments … It is national parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU … power must be able to flow back to Member States, not just away from them”. Great rhetoric, but nothing in Cameron’s deal will deliver it. Indeed, the key problem if we stay in the EU is that there will be no democratic legitimacy and accountability at all, neither in national parliaments nor in the European institutions.
Let’s start with immigration — according to opinion polls the public’s biggest concern. They are worried about wage compression, and about intense pressures on our social infrastructure and social cohesion. They are increasingly worried about the security threat as Jihadists use the current turmoil to infiltrate Europe.
Today we have a system where we have no control over EU migrants, and therefore no overall control, but where we discriminate against non-EU members (and therefore against Commonwealth citizens), and in favour of EU citizens. Clearly, this means we are also discriminating in favour of people who are predominantly white, and against Commonwealth citizens, many of whom are non-white.
Cameron has very successfully diverted the debate from immigration control to the detail of in-work welfare benefits and child allowances. But these are peripheral issues, and even the Office for Budget Responsibility has said they will have little effect on immigration. Our Prime Minister has successfully ducked the main issue of total numbers – and we must not let him get away with it.
We must remember that the EU is a moveable feast. If we stay, we may find that Germany has given EU passports to a million migrants, letting them come to Britain. We may find that Turkey (population 75 million, and borders with Syria and Iraq) has joined the EU — and joined in “Free Movement”.
Then, the €uro opt-out, of which Cameron seems very proud. But we (and Denmark) already have permanent opt-outs from €uro membership under the Maastricht Treaty. Cameron is claiming credit for John Major’s work. But he has not rushed to reclaim John Major’s opt-out from the Social Chapter, as he should have done. In his Bloomberg speech Cameron said “It is neither right nor necessary to claim that the integrity of the single market, or full membership of the European Union, requires the working hours of British hospital doctors to be set in Brussels irrespective of the views of British parliamentarians and practitioners”. Absolutely right, Dave — but you haven’t delivered a solution.
Then, “Ever Closer Union”. Cameron claims to have a new opt-out from ever closer union — though it appears to depend on future Treaty Change, which will be fiercely resisted. But it is also meaningless. As long as we in Britain remain subject to the constant flow of new Directives and Regulations from Brussels, we are committed to ever closer union, with or without those three words.
I was in a meeting in Brussels recently with prominent German CSU/EPP MEP Elmar Brok, whose views are highly influential in these matters. He said “’ever closer union’ has no legal force”. Right, Elmar. So removing those words has no effect. It is rather like the situation with the Lisbon Treaty, where they agreed to drop references to the flag and the anthem, knowing that they caused offence to sceptics. But the flag is still flown, and the anthem still played. There was no effect at all in the real world. And so it is with “ever closer union”.
“Competitiveness”: Cameron has an agreement that the EU should focus on competitiveness. But I’ve been in the European parliament for seventeen years, and I’ve heard that kind of talk over and over again. Remember when the EU was going to become “the world’s most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010”? (In fact, it slipped back relatively in the noughties). Meaningless verbiage — it will make no difference in reality.
Protection for non-€urozone countries: This requires detailed study — it is highly complex, and will keep commentators busy for weeks (and quite possibly keep lawyers busy for years). But the EU is extraordinarily clever at by-passing road-blocks. I wouldn’t bet the ranch on the vague promise we have so far.
More generally, the EU loves to offer “Red Cards” to overcome opposition, confident that these offer some reassurance, and yet are very difficult to invoke. And in any case they rarely deliver more than the right to keep talking. We’d need 55% support to invoke the so-called “Emergency Brake”. It’s as if the Referee at a football match had to phone a dozen other referees for permission to issue a red card. Not very practical.
Moreover many of Cameron’s so-called concessions can be challenged after the referendum (if we vote to stay) by the European parliament, and by the ECJ. Like so many things in the EU, it’s not a done deal. It’s part of a process. And the process is engineered to go in one direction: Ever Closer Union.
Cameron asked for less than his Conservative manifesto promised. Tusk offered him less than he’d asked for. And that has now been further watered down. The PR man has conducted a PR exercise, and will now try to sell us the snake oil.
So what should he have asked for? At the very least, he should have asked for reinstatement of the Social Chapter opt-out. He should have demanded a veto over European law for our parliament and for our Supreme Court. He should have got full control of our borders. He should have negotiated a reduction in our EU budget contributions. He should have taken back control of energy, fisheries, agriculture, environment. So what should have been left? Essentially a Free Trade Area (if we had also got rid of the Common External Tariff). I’d happily settle for a European Free Trade Area, and a relationship based solely on free trade and voluntary intergovernmental cooperation.
But hang on, I hear you say, you called it “Fraudulent”? Isn’t that a bit harsh? But if Cameron is hyping his deal as a major change in Britain’s relationship with the EU, then that’s just plain not true. It is, indeed, fraudulent.