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“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.”
Kipling’s words have come to mind over the last fortnight. The Prime Minister has been battling with his European colleagues to secure reforms of the European Union that will enable him to recommend to the British public that we vote to remain in the EU.
To his friends and allies he is securing victory as one concession after another is secured from his unwilling fellow heads of government. For them he is triumphing. To his critics and foes these victories are hollow and the concessions worthless. They fear disaster if the UK misses this once in a lifetime opportunity to get bag and baggage out of a European Union they believe we never should have joined.
As so often in the political world the truth lies firmly in between these two impostors.
Cameron’s achievements are significant. Of that there can be no serious doubt. For months we were told that any restrictions on welfare benefits for EU workers in Britain would be against EU law and undeliverable. Now the negotiation the Prime Minister is having is not about whether but about how the benefits could be removed for the stipulated four years.
Likewise, it is now accepted that Eurozone countries, 19 of the 28 member states, caucusing by themselves, will not be able to alter the Single Market and, in particular, disadvantage the City of London. Any proposals relevant to the Single Market will need to be determined by the full EU membership.
For me the crucial achievement for the long term is not that on welfare benefits, politically important though it is. Historic is the clear acceptance that the United Kingdom will be under no obligation to accept that “ever closer union” means further integration into the EU. That is, unless we are…