On 20th February 2016, David Cameron concluded his battle with EU leaders in a push for reforms which he hoped would further strengthen the case for Britain to remain part of the European Union. After a forty eight hour conference with representatives of the EU Council, the outcome he achieved could most realistically be described as a favourable compromise.
Not all negotiations were successful. Benefits reform and employment controls were the two issues in which Cameron was furthest from obtaining his goals. It must be remembered, however, that the Prime Minister was dealing with a federalist opposition who had no desire to implement any changes to the EU constitution. Among those reluctant to pass reform was the President of the European Council himself: Donald Tusk.
Despite there being strong resistance to Cameron’s bid for change, the concessions he achieved were, nevertheless, a success for the government. Perhaps most significantly, the Prime Minster was able to secure more democratic terms of membership for Britain and other non-Eurozone states, since it was agreed to that these nations should have a greater say on EU policy. In addition to this, the council acknowledged that Britain had a right to opt out of further integration with Europe and that the single currency should remain an option, not an obligation, for EU members. These amendments will be fundamental in the Prime Minister’s attempt to disarm Brexit, who often play upon the fear Britain becoming immersed in a European Super-State.
Cameron was also able to take ground on matters of security, having reached a consensus with the European Court of Human Rights regarding the government’s ability to deport dangerous criminals from abroad. Article 8 of the European Convention (right to family life) has often prevented the Ministry of Justice from taking such action, with figures in the Daily Mirror for 2010 alone showing that 102 criminals were allowed to remain in the UK as a result. It was agreed at the EU Summit in February, however, that Britain shall gain greater powers to expel an individual who presents a danger to society, particularly if the offender has had a long history of highly illegal activity.
On Thursday 23rd June this year, the future of the UK’s position in Europe will be determined in an in/out referendum which is predicted to be a very closely fought contest between the two sides. Although politicians from all the main parties have expressed disillusionment at the Prime Minister’s deal, the fact that it promises greater independence for Britain as an EU member could bolster public support for those fighting to stay in. John Major, the former Prime Minister and a staunch Europhile, praised the settlement which Cameron had secured, and stated in the Daily Telegraph that ‘we are the only nation within the EU which has managed to secure these concessions. It would surely be perverse to turn our back on these advantages, and replace them with serious risks’.
Opinion polls have recently shown a slender lead for the Eurosceptics. Such surveys, however, only represent a small portion of the electorate, and the unreliability of poll predictions was proven by the General Election result in 2015. From a business perspective, statistics gathered at the end last year revealed that 62% of companies wanted Britain to remain in a reformed EU, though this shows a sharp decline from the previous figure of 74%. Corporate support for Britain Stronger IN Europe may be set to rise again, however, now that Cameron has convinced the European Commission that they must reduce regulations and bureaucracy in the Single Market.
With eight weeks left until the nation determines its fate, the battle will be won and lost depending on which of the two camps is able to garner support from the many undecided voters. Nevertheless, if the coming days prove to be in anyway similar to those during the lead-up to the vote on Scottish independence in 2014, there is still a great opportunity for IN Campaigners to swing the electorate in their favour due to the inescapable public fear of both economic and political isolation in the event of Britain leaving.
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