Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Like many of you, I guess, I haven’t yet decided on which way to vote in the EU Referendum. David Cameron’s draft so-called deal isn’t helping me make up my mind. Frankly, if you go into a renegotiation asking for very little, you can expect to receive even less.
The Prime Minister made four demands, three of which weren’t actually demands at all. They were a statement of the bleedin’ obvious: motherhood and apple pie demands. He wanted a legal block on ever-closer union. Totally meaningless. The British Parliament has that already in that it can decide whether to ratify a new treaty or not. The only real bone of contention was on in-work benefits.
Cameron is heralding a four year brake on in-work benefits as some sort of triumph. In reality, it is nothing of the sort. It’s more of a handbrake U turn, as migrant workers will be able to gradually reclaim the very same in work benefits they were supposed to be banned from receiving in the first place.
He has caved in on the issue of paying child benefit to migrant worker’s children who still live in their home country. On what planet can any sensible person believe it is right to pay British benefits to children in foreign countries? In his manifesto, he promised to put a stop to it, but under the terms of this deal these benefits will continue to be paid. Good luck in selling that one to a sceptical electorate, Prime Minister.
This is a deal with one priority in mind: holding a referendum as early as possible, ideally on 23 June. Why? Because the longer it’s delayed, the more likely the political agenda is to be dominated by a further migrant and refugee crisis over the summer months. At the EU summit in two weeks’ time, this sword will held over the head of his fellow EU leaders. The message will be: “drop me in it now, and fail to agree terms, and I cannot guarantee a Remain vote in the UK referendum.”
So what we have here is a cynical manipulation of the British public. The trouble is that people are going to see it for what it is. I desperately want both sides in this referendum to give me a positive reason to vote for one way or the other. So far, all I hear is cynicism, threats and exaggerations. What we should be getting are facts, vision and hope.
If anything, the events of this week have pushed me further to considering a vote to leave the EU, partly because I am increasingly of the view that meaningful reform of the EU is impossible.
Will 28 countries ever agree on anything? The refugee crisis is a good example. If the EU can’t put measures in place to alleviate this crisis, what on earth is it for? It’s all very well to introduce a Red Card system under which national parliaments can club together to veto a new proposal from the European Commission. And it sounds reasonable until you find out that the yellow card system has only ever been used twice. What the British people surely want is for their own Parliament to be able to veto new proposals which disadvantage our country.
And when Cameron says he has got a concession for non-Eurozone members to be able to argue against measures taken by Eurozone countries if they feel they are disadvantaged by them – all well and good. They can put their case, but there’s no mechanism for it to go beyond protests.
So I believe that we, the British people, are being hoodwinked by the Prime Minister – and it’s our fault if we fall for it. If Conservative MPs fall for it too, so be it. The trouble is that we have an opposition hardly worthy of the name. Virtually the whole of the British political establishment is in hoc to the EU and is blinkered to the consequences. It says it all that in a profoundly Eurosceptic party only five out of 30 cabinet ministers are likely to support leaving the EU.
I am a Europe-loving Europsceptic. There’s not an anti-European bone in my body. I speak relatively fluent German. I’ve lived in Europe. My uncle died so that Europe could be freed.
I believe in cooperation between European countries. What I don’t believe in and can’t support is an unreformable monolith that is undemocratic and democratically unaccountable. If I am to vote to remain in the EU I need a lot more than a bit of tinkering around the edges by a Prime Minister who should be leading public opinion rather than vainly attempting to follow it. What a sad state of affairs.