Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is How we invented Freedom and why it matters.
If David Cameron wins the next election, he will secure 100 per cent of his negotiating objectives vis-à-vis the EU. How can I be sure? Because those negotiating objectives have been drawn up in such a way as to make their acceptance certain.
I can think of no other issue where there is such a disconnect between what politicians have said on the record and what reporters and columnists suppose them to have said. David Cameron set out his seven conditions for remaining in the EU in this article last year. Later that day, Nick Clegg popped up to declare that he wholeheartedly endorsed them: after all, said Cleggie, they wouldn’t require a new treaty, so nothing fundamental would change. The following day, Ken Clarke gave his approval on the same grounds.
Yet, eleven months on, we’re having a surreal debate about what the Prime Minister will ask for, and whether he’ll get his way, and what Angela Merkel might concede, and whether the Greek crisis will help or hinder him and blah blah fishcakes.
Read his actual words, for Heaven’s sake. There is only one item that might need an adjustment in the texts, namely the removal of the phrase “ever-closer union”. Federalist governments are relaxed about that change: they know that the rules will continue to be interpreted by the integrationist European Court of Justice, which is always ready to disregard what the treaties say in favour of what it thinks they ought to say. Such a teensy tweak won’t require a new treaty or new parliamentary ratification, say Euro-lawyers. It’s minor enough to be enacted through the self-amending mechanism introduced in Article 48 of the Lisbon Treaty.
As for the other changes – safeguarding the position of non-euro states, completing the single market in services, cutting red tape, etc – they won’t even require Article 48. None of them is a constitutional change. All can be agreed at ordinary ministerial meetings in Brussels.
Indeed, the item that Downing Street regards as the most important, namely the removal of some benefits from EU migrants, doesn’t require anyone’s permission at all. The Government could enact it through domestic legislation tomorrow. Why doesn’t it? Presumably because it wants to save something to bring back from the talks.
The renegotiation will alter nothing. When the Prime Minister has fulfilled every one of his stated objectives, we’ll still be full EU members on the existing terms. We’ll still be in the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the European Arrest Warrant. We’ll still be forbidden to negotiate bilateral trade deals with China or India or Australia. We’ll still be citizens of the European Union, with passports to prove it. We’ll still be paying more into the EU budget than we save through all our domestic austerity measures put together. EU law will still have primacy over our parliamentary statutes.
Why do journalists, normally so quick to pounce on a politician’s smallest inconsistency, not see what has happened? I appreciate that EU negotiations are, for a lot of people, dull and technical. But, measuring the government against its own past rhetoric, it must surely be obvious that there has been a climbdown.
In 2009, Cameron promised “to prevent EU judges gaining steadily greater control over our criminal justice system by negotiating an arrangement which would protect it. That will mean limiting the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction over criminal law to its pre-Lisbon level, and ensuring that only British authorities can initiate criminal investigations in Britain.”
In 2013, in his Bloomberg speech, he was still talking about significant unilateral repatriations of power. As recently as last year, he was after a cap on immigration from the EU, of the kind which Switzerland is now negotiating. All such talk has now been dropped. Ministers plainly won’t risk asking for something that might be denied. The only objectives still on the list are – with the exception of the “ever-closer union” technicality – ones that we can enact ourselves, without the possibility of a veto.
If you doubt me, ask why the referendum can now be held in 2016. The original justification for the delay was to allow time for a substantial renegotiation culminating in a new treaty. No one in government is now talking in such terms.
What an opportunity we’ve missed. Although the other EU states are reluctant to make concessions on the fundamentals of the single market, such free movement and employment policy, there were other concessions to be had. Withdrawing from the common policies introduced since Maastricht – foreign affairs, defence, justice and home affairs, EU citizenship – would have been far easier logistically. The issue was not that the other member states wouldn’t allow a British opt-out; it’s that the Government doesn’t want one. Participation in these common policies is seen in London as a way to “boost our influence”.
Ah, well, we are where we are. I set out nine renegotiation goals here; Business for Britain proposed ten slightly different ones here. But the Government isn’t interested in pursuing these goals.
Instead, we’ll be voting on whether to remain in the EU on the present terms. Oh, sure, there’ll be a song and dance about the talks. Tame pundits will be lined up to aver that there was hard pounding. EU leaders will be wheeled out to complain theatrically that the British got their way. But, in the end, there is only one test that counts. Will there be there a new Intergovernmental Conference and a new treaty? Without them, it will be impossible to claim that there has been any substantive reform.
Most British people, if the polls are to be believed, want a relationship with the EU based on economic co-operation rather than political integration. It’s now clear that such a deal isn’t being sought through renegotiation. It can still be secured, but now only from the outside, in the manner of Switzerland or Guernsey.
The way to get a free-trade relationship with the EU is to leave. The way to leave is through a referendum. The way to get a referendum to put enough Conservative MPs into the Commons to deliver one. It’s clear that the Prime Minister and I will be on opposite sides when that referendum comes; but he remains our best chance of getting it.