One of puzzles in UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s approach to renegotiating Britain’s relationship with Europe is what exactly does he want? What are his core demands?
He has never set out in precise terms what are his minimum demands. His broad brush approach makes sense from a tactical point of view. He can offer his proposed referendum to appeal to Eurosceptic UK voters who want to quit the EU. In contrast to the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who argues that a Brexit referendum would absorb all of the government’s political energy, be divisive at a time when economic reform and social justice are more pressing, and could easily result in the disaster of Britain quitting Europe, Cameron insists that his referendum must and will be held if he stays in Downing Street after the May general election.
Two of his Conservative Party’s senior politicians, the possible future leader, London Mayor Boris Johnson and a rising younger star, the cabinet minister, Sajid Javid said at the weekend they thought Brexit would not damage Britain.
In a poll published on Monday (3 February), 58% of Conservative Party members said they would vote to quit the EU and only 33% said they would vote to stay in. So the pressure for an ‘Out’ vote is growing in Conservative ranks.
Cameron has so far rejected a simple Out demand. Instead, he calls for a reformed EU in which a Conservative led Britain would be at ease. So what does he want?
There is an important clue in a manifesto just published of minimum concessions the other 27 EU member states have to make to secure support for a ‘Yes’ vote in the Brexit referendum. It is drawn up by Business for Britain, a well-supported business grouping of over 1,000 openly Eurosceptic businesses. It is backed by wealthy business leaders who do not like Europe. Its chief executive is Matthew Elliot, one of the most effective and energetic lobbyists in London. He previously led the Taxpayers’ Alliance whose attacks on public spending got great publicity towards the end of the last Labour government.
Now he has switched to the anti-European cause and his Business for Britain gets more publicity than the long established outfits like the Confederation of British Industry or the British Chambers of Commerce.
He has set out 10 concessions Cameron has to obtain in order to call for a ‘Yes’ vote.
1. An end to ‘ever closer union’
2. Cut EU red tape for SMEs and start-ups
3. Return control over social & employment laws
4. Protect the City and financial services
5. Protect the UK from Eurozone meddling
6. Fast track international trade deals
7. Cut the EU budget to save taxpayers’ money
8. Apply UK transparency laws to the EU
9. Give member states control over migration
10. Restore Britain’s right to veto EU laws
Many if not all the demands demand a major re-writing of existing EU Treaties. The language on ‘on ever closer union of people’ (not it might be emphasised states or nations) has been in all treaties since 1957. It was removed in the constitutional treaty but resurfaced after that was shot down in the French and Dutch referendums in 2005.
Protecting the City is a permanent demand but at the same time Lord Hill, the EU Commissioner, is working on plans for a Capital Markets Union which will require more not fewer powers for Brussels to interfere in and regulate the banking and financial services sectors of 28 EU member states.
The EU budget is fixed at 1 per cent of EU gross income with about 85 per cent being returned to member states for national spending on agricultural subsidies and regional infrastructure projects.
Fast track international trade deals means denying national parliaments the right to vote on them yet the Business for Britain manifesto says Britain –and presumably all other EU member states – can veto any EU law they don’t like.
All business leaders including the CBI want an end to social legislation yet Juncker insisted Social Europe would be at the heart of his Commission when he took up office in November 2014.
Business for Britain’s demands are an extension of the minimum concessions that the former Prime Minister, Sir John Major, called for in a speech at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in 2013 shortly after Prime Minister Cameron’s In-0ut Brexit referendum announcement.
Sir John listed the minimum requirement for the UK to stay in the EU as
- Safeguards for the City
- Less regulation
- Less bureaucracy
- No more social legislation
- A full repeal of the Working Time directive
- Changes in key EU policies like the Common Agricultural and Fisheries policies
Since then the EU debate in Britain has been fused with the toxic issue of immigration hence the new demand that free movement of people has to end to allow Britain to determine who enters the UK.
Juncker and other leaders have said No to ending free movement and relations between the EU and Switzerland are now very tense, if not closer to breaking point on that core question.
So the Business for Britain manifesto has been set out to demand concessions that cannot possibly be met without a massive new Treaty and certainly not within the short maximum two year timetable to meet Cameron’s promise of a referendum by 2017.
Unlike the Greek negotiations which in essence require complex financial recalibrations now being helped by Lazards who have been sensibly hired by Athens to interface with Brussels experts but which do not demand a new treaty or the abolition of fundamental EU directives or values, the British demands are qualitatively and quantatively in a different league.
Moreover it is not clear that the Commission has the legal power to negotiate with a country making unilateral demands that involve treaty change.
So if the demands set out by Business for Britain do reflect Cameron’s minimum negotiating position the chances of him securing the deal he needs to argue for a Yes vote are slim indeed