UK to lay cards on the ta­ble over EU ref­er­en­dum

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Jacques Klopp

Af­ter months with­out a break­through, David Cameron will fi­nally give more de­tails to­mor­row of what re­forms he wants for Bri­tain to stay in the Euro­pean Union be­fore a loom­ing ref­er­en­dum. Nearly three years af­ter promis­ing a vote be­fore the end of 2017, the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter will de­liver his shop­ping list in a let­ter to EU pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk, which is ex­pected to be made pub­lic. The let­ter comes ahead of a crunch Euro­pean sum­mit in Brus­sels next month and amid hopes that the Bri­tish ref­er­en­dum on whether to re­main an EU mem­ber state can be held next year.

Cameron will warn in a speech to­mor­row that if Bri­tain’s con­cerns are met with a “deaf ear”, he will have to “think again about whether this Euro­pean Union is right for us.” “I rule noth­ing out,” he will add, ac­cord­ing to pre-re­leased ex­tracts. His Europe Min­is­ter David Lid­ing­ton told jour­nal­ists last week not to ex­pect too much new de­tail in the let­ter, adding it would be “am­bi­tious” to hope for a deal at De­cem­ber’s sum­mit.

“My ad­vice to the prime min­is­ter has al­ways been don’t pub­lish a de­tailed ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion,” he said. He also high­lighted that there would have to be four months be­tween any deal be­ing agreed and the vote be­ing held.

‘Wants to ap­pease eu­roscep­tics’

Gabriel Siles-Brugge, a pol­i­tics lec­turer at Manch­ester Univer­sity, said Cameron had al­ways been “a bit vague” in his de­mands be­cause he is car­ry­ing out “a dif­fi­cult bal­anc­ing act”. “He wants to ap­pease eu­roscep­tics in his own party while avoid­ing Brexit (Bri­tish exit from the EU). But he is of course now be­ing pushed by EU lead­ers to con­cre­tise his pro­pos­als,” he said.

“That may lead to the former be­ing dis­ap­pointed be­cause the pro­pos­als aren’t in­tended to push Bri­tain to­wards Brexit but rather to al­low him to pro­claim a sym­bolic vic­tory over Brus­sels.” John Springford of the Cen­tre For Euro­pean Re­form high­lighted that Cameron first promised a ref­er­en­dum in 2013, when the anti-EU UK In­de­pen­dence Party (UKIP) was surg­ing and his po­si­tion looked shaky. His Con­ser­va­tives sub­se­quently won a House of Com­mons ma­jor­ity in elec­tions this year while UKIP man­aged to win just one seat. “The strat­egy was a po­lit­i­cal one,” he added. “I re­ally don’t think Cameron went into that speech with a clear view of what re­form he even wanted from the EU.”

Four key ar­eas

In re­cent weeks, Euro­pean part­ners have put in­creas­ing pres­sure on Cameron to lay out in more de­tail what kind of re­forms he wants. Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Philip Ham­mond on Sun­day told the BBC that some of the re­forms “will re­quire changes to the body of law, to the treaties and sec­ondary leg­is­la­tion,” al­though the prime min­is­ter has ac­cepted that this is highly un­likely be­fore the ref­er­en­dum is held. Cameron has long iden­ti­fied four broad ar­eas where he wants to see re­forms im­prov­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness, greater “fair­ness” be­tween euro-zone and non-euro-zone na­tions, sovereignty is­sues in­clud­ing an ex­emp­tion from the as­pi­ra­tion of ever-closer union and mak­ing it harder for mi­grants to claim ben­e­fits.

When Cameron’s de facto deputy and pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor, fi­nance min­is­ter Ge­orge Os­borne, gave a speech in Ber­lin last week, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel con­ceded that Bri­tain had “jus­ti­fied con­cerns” and stressed she wanted to help pre­vent a Brexit. Ex­perts say there is room for com­pro­mise in all ar­eas ex­cept mi­gra­tion, where Cameron wants to stop EU mi­grants, in­clud­ing those in work, from claim­ing cer­tain state ben­e­fits for four years af­ter ar­riv­ing in Bri­tain. “In the UK, this is one of the key is­sues if not the key is­sue as far as the pub­lic is con­cerned,” said Stephen Booth, co-di­rec­tor of think-tank Open Europe.

This will be par­tic­u­larly tough to achieve agree­ment on be­cause of non-dis­crim­i­na­tion prin­ci­ples in EU leg­is­la­tion. A fail­ure by Cameron, who has said he will step down as prime min­is­ter by 2020, to achieve what he wants over ben­e­fits would be par­tic­u­larly dam­ag­ing to him and his cen­tre-right Con­ser­va­tive party. Ham­mond warned that a Brexit was a real threat if Bri­tons be­lieved they were be­ing “fobbed off with a set of cos­metic al­ter­ations”. “This is about fun­da­men­tal change. If we can’t do that, then we can’t win a ref­er­en­dum,” he said. —AFP


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