quarta-feira, 3 de fevereiro de 2016
5 takeaways on the UK’s EU renegotiation
LETTER FROM LONDON
5 takeaways on the UK’s EU renegotiation
David Cameron has given the British people something to think about — but a lot could still go wrong.
By ROBERT COLVILE 2/2/16, 2:31 PM CET Updated 2/3/16, 7:54 AM CET
At long last, the details of Britain’s renegotiation with Europe are out in the open. But how will the provisional deal hammered out by David Cameron and Donald Tusk go down in Britain? Here are the five most important points to remember.
1) This isn’t the deal Cameron promised
It was a declaration of victory — sort of. “Right at the beginning of this process, we set out the four areas where we wanted substantial change,” said Cameron, as he trumpeted the draft of Britain’s renegotiation agreement with the European Union. Real progress had, he insisted, been made in all four areas — although this was not, he repeatedly insisted, the finished article.
That’s true — but only up to a point. For all the talk of tough negotiating and concessions wrested from Brussels by sheer force of will, the truth is that Cameron’s renegotiation strategy has been a bit of a moveable feast.
Since Cameron’s “Bloomberg speech” in 2013, which set out his stall for renegotiation, all manner of issues that were claimed to be vital for Britain — completing the single market, tackling over-mighty European judges, limiting the effects of workplace regulation, taking whole areas out of the EU’s purview and handing them back to national parliaments — have been quietly shelved.
This week, Paul Goodman, editor of ConservativeHome and a leading campaigner for Out, highlighted 10 proposals the prime minister floated and then dropped over the course of the negotiating process.
Many elements within the renegotiation don’t match Cameron’s rhetoric. The “red card” system for national parliaments, which requires a majority to agree to block European rules, sets a dizzyingly high threshold for forming such coalitions. Indeed, as became clear at Open Europe’s recent “war games” event that modeled Brexit negotiations, the red card is more likely to be used against Britain than for it — in completing the single market in services, for example, which Britain wants but others don’t.
2) It might be the best deal Cameron could get
The deal still needs to be wrangled over by other European Union leaders at a summit on February 18-19 — a process that might result in Britain winning more concessions, but is equally likely to see certain aspects being unpicked. The early reaction has been decidedly lukewarm. The Daily Mail summed up the mood on the Right with a front-page headline Tuesday morning: “Is that it then, Mr. Cameron?”
Out campaigners have long suspected that any deal with the EU would be purely cosmetic. But Cameron always faced a structural problem: There has been almost no overlap between what can be useful for Britain to get in terms of reform, what can be sold to the public as a real victory, and what the European Union is actually prepared to give.
The current deal represents a creditable attempt to square that circle. True, it lacks a slam-dunk concession that can be sold on the doorstep as a great example of Cameron standing up for Britain. But the mere fact that there’s an outline deal in place is, in many ways, more important than the actual contents.
The Out side are rubbishing it, as they were always going to. But Cameron might be able to sell this step as his long-awaited pivot from stern critic of the EU to passionate defender of its (suitably amended) virtues.
3) The big beasts aren’t yet persuaded
Until this week, Cameron had done an excellent job of playing a weak hand well. A series of figures within the Conservative Party who might have been expected to plump for Out reportedly confirmed that they would not vote for Leave after all.
This was put down to a combination of self-interest — Chancellor George Osborne has been reported to be starting conversations with: “So, are you supporting Leave, or do you prefer to have a career?” — as well as personal loyalty to Cameron (in the case of Justice Secretary Michael Gove) and a feeling that the very public in-fighting on the Out side was best avoided.
Cameron has kept his party more united than might otherwise be expected. But the deal’s apparent limitations have opened a chink of light for those who see their best route to succeeding Cameron as being leader of a successful Out campaign (not least because the bulk of Tory activists will be on that side).
London mayor Boris Johnson is already rowing back on his apparent conversion to the In cause by saying that he would need to absorb the deal in its “full, quivering magnitude,” but feels that there is “much, much more” that needs to be done, and that the red card system does not go far enough.
Home Secretary Theresa May, meanwhile, has made it clear that the EU’s concessions on migration are too weak. Both are careful to couch their comments in terms of respect for Cameron’s efforts. But both are keeping their options open.
4) Meanwhile, the Wilson plan remains on course…
Come February 18, other leaders could derail or dilute Cameron’s plan to the point where his strategy falls apart — or where support of Johnson or May gives a major boost to the Out side.
But at the moment, it looks like Cameron will be able to repeat Harold Wilson’s 1975 strategy: promise a referendum, present a limited package of concessions as a stunning diplomatic victory, then use his authority as prime minister to lead his nation to an In vote.
Yes, skepticism towards the EU has grown since then. And yes, the Leave camp will have more heavyweight media support than last time — the Mail and Express seem like locks for the Out side, while the Telegraph is keeping its options open. The Out side will probably have more mainstream leadership than last time, when it had to make do with Tony Benn on the Left and Enoch Powell on the Right.
But against that is 40 years’ worth of decisions that have bound Britain to Europe, and which would be incredibly painful and difficult to untangle.
The thinking (and the betting) is that Cameron will be successful in his argument: While the EU isn’t perfect, and there is much to grumble about, voting Out is too much of a risk for the country to take.
Some in England may also be swayed by the argument that voting for Brexit would break up the Union, given Scotland’s much more positive view of the EU.
5) The country is changing
The X factor here is not what further changes will be made to Cameron’s deal, but something entirely beyond his control: the migration crisis. Polling shows that concern about immigration has surged in Britain as everywhere else — an unprecedented percentage of voters, close to 60 percent, now call migration one of the most important issues facing the country.
It’s unclear whether Cameron’s “emergency brake” — the temporary restriction of in-work benefits to new arrivals from the EU — will do anything to help, partly because the conditions for using the lever will be determined in Brussels but mostly because wages here will still be vastly higher than in parts of Eastern Europe.
More generally, there is an anti-politics mood abroad, a reluctance to listen to the established elites who brought us the financial crisis and the MPs’ expenses saga — and who will, by and large, be the ones making the case for Out.
In an era in which Donald Trump and Ted Cruz can dominate the Republican race in the U.S., Jeremy Corbyn can claim the Labour leadership in the U.K., and parties of the extreme Left and Right can gain strength across Europe, who’s to say that the voters won’t choose to blow an almighty raspberry at the powers that be?
One of the reasons Cameron wants to hurry the referendum along — the suggested date is June 23, barely a month after local council elections, Scottish elections and London mayoral elections — is to prevent such an insurrection gathering momentum. The theory is that the less time the British public have to think about this, the less time there is for things to go wrong.
The odds are still that Cameron can take the country with him. But there are an awful lot of things that could go wrong along the way.
Robert Colvile is a regular contributor at POLITICO.