EU referendum: David Cameron’s list of demands will not appease Eurosceptics

No one in the country, beyond Eurosceptics in the Tory Party and Ukip, has been clamouring for a referendum over these modest measures

Tuesday 10 November 2015 22:00
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It is in the nature of European diplomacy that countries usually only formally ask of their EU partners what they know can be safely delivered – anything else risks ritual public humiliation. So it would seem for the majority of the Prime Minister’s list of demands. Not even the most dedicated Europhile could object to making Europe more competitive. The form of words “ever-closer union” could also be safely recast to satisfy the tastes of the British and other governments on the Eurosceptic end of the spectrum. National parliaments could and should have a greater say, though the European Parliament might find that a little more difficult to agree to.

The one area where David Cameron knows he will have trouble pushing his agenda is in the free movement of labour. The principle, enshrined in successive treaties, and a fundamental tenet of the European project, will remain sacrosanct. What we have instead is the prospect of bureaucratic wrangling about in-work benefit entitlements and the export of child benefit to Eastern Europe, rather than some great argument of principle about “controlling our borders” – an area in which Mr Cameron knows that Chancellor Merkel has already told him “Nein”. The Prime Minister wants to deny EU migrants welfare for four years – a target he will almost certainly be denied. A smaller ban, for say six months, may on the other hand gain support.

So these relatively modest published proposals confirm what we have known all along: that Mr Cameron chose to gamble Britain’s place in Europe for what will amount to some tinkering with child benefits going to Poles. Yet no one in the country, beyond the Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party and Ukip, has been clamouring for a referendum over these modest measures. And so the great charade begins…

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