Has the Prime Minister won significant concessions?by Prospect Team / February 22, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Cameron’s compromise
On Friday evening, David Cameron announced that he had struck a deal with European Union leaders. Britain’s relationship with the EU is sufficiently reformed on issues such as “ever closer union” and benefits for migrant workers, Cameron claims, to mean that we should remain a member. He will campaign to remain leading up to the referendum on 23rd June.
But Cameron’s critics allege that nothing much has changed. They are quick to point out that the concessions Cameron has won are watered-down versions of what he first proposed. (for a run-down of precisely what the agreement means, read John Springford’s piece here).
Has Cameron achieved meaningful reform? Our panel of experts, including Priti Patel, Minister of State for Employment, and Neil Carmichael, chair of the Conservative Europe Group, offer their views.
Let’s take back control
Priti Patel, Minister of State for Employment
The forthcoming referendum is a once in a lifetime opportunity for this country to take back control over our destiny and to decide how we are governed. Do we want to continue be governed by the EU’s unelected and unaccountable institutions that shamelessly pillage £350 million each week from taxpayers’ pockets? Or do we want Britain to be a free, strong, independent and sovereign country whose government is elected by and accountable to the British people? By voting to leave the Union we can take back control over how our laws are made and how our money is spent.
A deal that maximises our interests
Neil Carmichael, chair of the Conservative Europe Group
My position on our membership of the European Union is straightforward and it has been consistent throughout my involvement in politics. The EU is not perfect and it needs to be reformed—and the Prime Minister has set out a path to achieve that. There is no point in being dogmatic about it. This is a simple question of where and how our national interest is best pursued. There is nothing inherently patriotic about being a “Eurosceptic”; nor is there anything inherently unpatriotic about supporting our EU membership. This is about balancing complicated questions of influence, cost, democracy, migration, self-determination and economic advantage. On balance the Prime Minister has got a deal that protects our interests and maximises our influence.
The logical choice
Timothy Stanley, historian, and columnist and leader writer for The Daily Telegraph
David Cameron’s deal is empty, full of equivocations and promises to behave better in future. For instance, all that voters really care about when it comes to immigration is reducing numbers—and the deal won’t do that. If offers a bogus four year break on in-work benefits that tapers away once migrants start earning. Poland insists that the agreement is actually good for its citizens, Francois Hollande said of the summit: “Just because it lasted a long time doesn’t mean much happened.” All we learned from the renegotiation was what the EU is not prepared to give Britain. The logical inference, for those who truly care about sovereignty or economic liberalism, is Brexit.
The lines have been drawn
Jonathan Portes, Senior Fellow, The UK in a Changing Europe initiative
As regards immigration, perhaps the real significance of the renegotiation is that it has clarified the issue. The deal will have at most a modest impact on benefit receipt, and very little impact indeed on migration flows. That means the dividing lines for the referendum are clearly drawn. Those in the UK who oppose either European migration or EU membership itself frequently complain that somehow the British people were never consulted on whether or not we had “open borders” with the rest of the EU. That claim has considerable resonance. But after the referendum, it will be false. If the UK votes to stay in, it will have accepted—however reluctantly—that staying entails a commitment to free movement of workers in the EU, both in principle and in practice, and the resulting migration flows.
An awkward truth
Asa Bennett, Assistant Comment Editor at the Daily Telegraph
David Cameron has spent years on his renegotiation mission, but the awkward truth is that it will have very little effect on how Britain votes in the referendum. He has billed it as giving the UK “special status” in the EU, but Francois Hollande undermined this when he insisted there had been “no exceptions” made, so only those who already think well of Cameron will be impressed. Eurosceptics were never going to be bowled over, partly as they began by settling the expectations so high that Cameron could never get enough for them—unless he pulled Britain out. The referendum won’t be a vote on how successful Britain thinks the renegotiation was, but how happy people are about Britain remaining in the EU.
Not transformative; not trivial
Vincenzo Scarpetta, Policy Analyst at Open Europe think tank
The reform package is a step in the right direction. It is not transformative, but neither is it trivial. The safeguards for non-Eurozone countries are significant, while the restrictions on EU migrants’ access to welfare would make the current system fairer and help reduce the incentives to move to the UK to perform low-paid, low-skilled work. The changes on “ever closer union” make it clear that the UK does not want further political integration. Overall, this is the largest single shift in a member state’s EU membership terms. It is unfortunate that EU leaders’ reluctance to embrace Europe-wide reform has narrowed the scope of the negotiations to British exceptionalism. It is not simply the British public that wants a more competitive, democratic and less bureaucratic EU. The question now is not only whether the EU will ever be able to achieve radical reform, but whether there is an alternative that would better deliver on British interests.
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