David Cameron will outline his renegotiation aims in a speech later today, and the briefing to this morning’s papers suggest that they will be much as previously reported: ensuring that single market rules cannot be written only by Eurozone countries; making the EU more competitive; bolstering the role of national parliaments and banning migrants from receiving in-work benefits. He was not reported to be seeking that last objective during an earlier report of his plan.
He will attempt to enshrine them in Treaty change – or, rather, a protocol, to be lodged at the UN, which will commit them to be enshrined in such change at a future date. This morning’s papers have seized on the Prime Minister’s benefit reform aim, and reported that Poland is likely to block it. But Angela Merkel knows that Cameron cannot risk returning to Britain with a referendum looming and proposals rejected. So there may well be a compromise.
In other words, the Prime Minister is likely to get his package, or most of it, and return home claiming victory in the negotiation – a familiar tactic of British Governments, and perhaps especially Conservative ones, when faced with sceptical MPs and voters. The reforms he seeks are sensible and consistent with the Conservative Manifesto on which he was returned. However, they seem to fall some way short of the total of his previous demands set out during the last Parliament and in the one before that, which included the repatriation of employment laws, fast-tracking international trade deals, cutting the EU budget and applying British transparency laws to the Union. Perhaps these will be in his speech later today and perhaps they won’t: we will see.
But in any event, there is no way of guaranteeing that they will be delivered. Treaty change would perhaps be likely were a Europe-wide process of constitutional revision to be taking place. However, it is most unlikely to be delivered on behalf of one member state alone, and Cameron knows this perfectly well. Leaders change; governments come and go; any commitment to reform will not be legally binding – and his sought-after protocol would therefore have no force. Furthermore, treaty change requires referendums in three EU countries. So even were it to be agreed in principle, it would be dependent on voters in France, the Netherlands and Ireland. And there is no means of ensuring that the good people of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Friesland and Kerry North-West (and so on) will be willing to help the Prime Minister out.
In short, Cameron is presenting a renegotiation plan that is modest, at least compared to his previous announcements, and he has no means of ensuring that it is delivered. (By the way, the benefits reform scheme has a nasty sting in the tail: Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, is warning that it may be ruled to be illegal, even if it is agreed.) So after the negotiation is complete and the dust has cleared, the question that will remain is simply: do we want to be in the EU on present terms?
ConservativeHome believes that we should not – because Britain can get the best of both worlds outside the EU: that’s to say, access to the single market and more democratic control over the decisions that shape our lives. But even were access on present terms to be denied, we could still, as Business for Britain has said, ‘compensate all exporters for any tariffs they would have to pay from losing trade treaty benefits…whilst still leaving almost £4 billion for either public services or tax cuts’.
Fewer politicians. Better immigration control. More money for public services and tax cuts. A stronger economy – and, not least, global engagement with a wider world that technology and progress is transforming, rather than a narrower focus on a single continent that is shrinking into relative decline. The Prime Minister should be left to his negotiation and be heard with respect. But Conservative Party members, within Parliament and without, should prepare to campaign to Leave.