After months of post-election negotiation, David Cameron has announced the deal that is supposed to keep the UK in the EU. Much like Cameron's election buzz phrase ‘long term economic plan', his referendum buzz phrase is the 'special status' he declares the UK now has within the EU. The truth however, is a much more depressing reality. The deal secured by Cameron has minimal impact on the UK's relationship with the EU and will force many swing voters hoping for a reformed EU to vote leave.
Most concerning for Cameron’s political future is the undeniable split emerging in the Conservative Party. This is the gamble Cameron took with a referendum on the European Union and it appears to be backfiring. Indeed, to counter the rise of UKIP, Cameron offered a referendum by 2017 – coaxing many voters to plump for the Conservatives in May.
Basking in the glory of his election success, Cameron appeared on a roll with his newfound authority. For a brief time he commanded the respect of his party, in a way previously not possible whilst constrained by the shackles of coalition government. The EU gamble, however, designed to guarantee Cameron’s elevated status, has returned to haunt the Prime Minister.
Conservative Home, the grassroots Conservative website (but independent of the party), found that 71% of party members were more likely to vote to leave, compared to 24% who would vote remain. Cameron's lackluster deal has only further alienated these members. By creating a narrative that the EU is not acceptable in its current form, Cameron had to secure fundamental change. Despite the spin from Number 10, this hasn't happened. Instead, we got a deal that betrays Britain. The chances of 'Brexit' increase dramatically as a result.
Before criticising Cameron's 'deal', it is worth stating that he did actually secure one reform of huge significance. The agreement between the UK and the EU proposes:
‘It is recognised that the United Kingdom, in the light of the specific situation it has under the Treaties, is not committed to further political integration into the European Union. The substance of this will be incorporated into the Treaties at the time of their next revision in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Treaties and the respective constitutional requirements of the Member States, so as to make it clear that the references to ever closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom.’
This has wrongly been dismissed as a pact that merely cements the obvious. We already have many opt-outs, most notably from the Eurozone, so it is true that the UK is to a certain extent exempt from 'ever closer union'. Yet, each opt-out has been the outcome of heavy, largely bitter negotiations between ourselves and our European partners. Having the other member states recognise and accept conclusively that Britain is not part of ever closer union is a huge concession from the EU. In future treaty negotiations (if we vote to stay) we will not have to haggle with our European counterparts in order to protect British sovereignty. Instead, we will merely be able to cite the Prime Minister’s agreement.
Unfortunately, this is as good as the deal gets. Further integration is prevented for the intermediate future, but there was no agreement to reverse the integration that has already taken place. Cameron himself originally acknowledged major issues across a variety of areas, from immigration to law and order. Yet, the rest of his deal does nothing to reclaim powers for the UK Parliament.
The British public were promised that powers would be transferred from Brussels to Westminster, particularly regarding immigration. Stats released just this week show net migration is at 323,000, a near record high in British history. The concessions Cameron did achieve were minor and relatively insignificant. Tinkering with the benefits system and stalling changes until 2020 will not prevent immigrants from arriving in the UK. Cameron’s benefit changes do not come close to fixing some of the most serious side effects of uncontrolled immigration; the strain on the NHS, the demand on housing, and the demand for school places to name a few.
His other two concessions, on the Eurozone and competitiveness are utterly meaningless. He has addressed issues that do not matter to the public. The deal states:
'Mutual respect between member states participating or not in the operation of the euro area will be ensured… where feasible burden reduction targets in key sectors, with commitments by EU institutions and Member States.'
This is possibly the most worthless concession in the entire deal. It is simply a gimmick. No person of sane mind believes the UK is joining the Eurozone anytime soon. Even Nick Clegg, who campaigned heavily in the early 2000s to join the Euro, accepts that this is simply not on the agenda. Cameron is being dishonest presenting this as a major concession.
Moreover, regarding competitiveness, many people agree there should less red tape for businesses. The EU, regardless of the politics of the UK, would be pursuing a reduction of red tape; it’s in the interest of ever member state to do so. This is not a win for British businesses. If pressed, I doubt Cameron could state three ways businesses will be able to operate more easily. Yet another meaningless concession.
Wisely, the 'In' campaign has not concentrated its argument on the strength of Cameron’s deal. Indeed, if the referendum became a vote on Cameron and his deal then 'Brexit' would almost certainly win. Regardless, with a party divided it is hard to see how Cameron can command the authority of the House until 2020. Worse, Cameron has lost the respect of his European allies after securing this weak deal. Cameron has failed his own party but, worst of all, he has failed the people he is elected to serve.