The moment has arrived and David Cameron has presented his long awaited renegotiation to the British public. Has he managed to win big for Britain, curtailing benefits, returning sovereignty to the Mother of all Parliaments and get exemptions from Eurozone bailouts and the worlds most inexact phrase ‘ever closer union’? The answer is of course, no, and Cameron took a lot of flak in his statement to the House earlier today.
The Eurosceptic press has long said that Cameron will try to sell minor concessions as major victories and this is indeed what happened, a point even ‘remainers’ like Boris Johnson and Angus Robertson acknowledged. The deal was further ridiculed in the press, which is why Downing Street is selling the deal as one that needs work ahead of the crunch EU Council meeting on 18 – 19 February.
The ‘out’ campaign is obviously not impressed and neither are many Tory backbenchers, who more than most get hot under the collar over Europe. The settlement was denounced as ‘derisory’, ’threadbare’ and ‘a con’ as Tory backbenchers lined up to criticise the deal with analogy of the day going to Andrew Bridgen telling the House “the Prime Minister will try and pull another dead rabbit from the hat and tell us it’s a live tiger”. One person who did support the document was former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, calling the legally binding elements “quite remarkable” in the way they could protect Britain from dubious treaty interpretations, but he was very much in the minority.
How did the other parties react?
Jeremy Corbyn said Labour remained committed to staying in the EU, but has different goals to Cameron and wants more action on corporate taxation and the EU – USA TTIP trade agreement. He called the renegotiation “a Tory party drama “and a “smoke and mirror sideshow”, urging Cameron to put the issue to bed with a June referendum.
The SNP reiterated concerns on what happens if Scotland votes in, but the UK votes out, something that may become a big issue as we approach the referendum date.
Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron made the most of the Liberal Democrats limited parliamentary time noting that Eurosceptic Tories will never be happy. He amusingly said “The PM could have built a wall & demanded Europe pay for it, delivered the closure of all borders & it still would not be enough for Tory backbenchers”.
What difference will the deal make?
There is a sizeable core who will vote ‘out’, whatever Cameron brings back from Brussels so it’s is unlikely the deal brought before parliament will change that many minds. Cameron needs one or two clear wins to convince the public (and his own frontbench) that meaningful change can occur, and with a recent poll showing a 1% difference between in and out, undecided voters will be crucial to the outcome.
Immigration will be an important issue, but fear will play a significant role too. The fear of the unknown holds a powerful sway over voters and those campaigning to leave need to successfully identify what these unknowns are in order to develop convincing counter arguments. The failure to do this impacted the Scottish independence referendum result, and the business lobby and No. 10 will push economic uncertainty as a key reason to stay in Europe.
The draft text presented to parliament has given both sides a chance to go into the detail of what Britain will look like if it chooses to stay. The ‘in’ campaign knows it will be politically foolish to say the UK/EU relationship can’t be improved, as after forty years, there is a genuine public appetite for reform.
The out campaign will continue to criticise the deal will between now and 18 February, when the Council of the European Union meet to finalise the draft text. Reaching a deal will allow the Prime Minister to set a date and see the campaign seriously scale up, with Electoral Commission rules coming into force and a Purdah period towards the end. Cameron knows that uncertainty over the result is holding up the process of government and preventing businesses from making crucial investment decisions, which makes a summer date (probably 23 June) seem more likely.
Political Intelligence has published a guide (click the button below to read) on the referendum looking at likely timescales, the four ‘baskets’ (Economic governance; Competitiveness; Sovereignty, and Immigration) that form the basis of Cameron’s negotiations and what it could mean for businesses in the UK and Europe.
If you have any questions on how your business could be affected by the EU referendum or Brexit, please contact Group Managing Director Nicholas Lansman on Nick@Political-Intelligence.com.