Prime Minister David Cameron’s whistle-stop tour of Europe has finally reached its end in Brussels, culminating in his announcement that the United Kingdom’s referendum on membership of the European Union will be held on the 23rd of June 2016, in a move which will ramp up pro and anti-Europe campaigning throughout the spring and into summer.
Having sought a special deal for the UK to remain a member state, Cameron was forced to renege on many of his proposals, such as the removal of child benefit for families with children at home in other EU member states, which drew staunch opposition from Eastern European countries. He did, however, manage to have words to the effect of “the United Kingdom is not committed to further integration in the European Union” included in the Agreement’s final draft, one of his primary aims. Overall, he has deemed the pact he managed to secure strong enough to mean that remaining in the EU can help to create an “even greater Britain”.
Yet, last week’s Question Time began with the question: “Has David Cameron really done enough to persuade the British public that we should remain in the European Union?” The fact of the matter is that he has not.
The bargain he returned with will do little to appease those on the right or left who were already Eurosceptic. For the former, he has not gone far enough in his demands. His manifesto’s promise of restrictions to access to social housing for migrants were nowhere to be seen, while he was also unable to restrict levels of EU migration, so often lambasted by the far-right in their fight to ‘take back the borders’. We will therefore most definitely be seeing Nigel Farage touring his “Australian points-based system” spiel around the TV stations for the umpteenth time.
The left, meanwhile, will question why the Prime Minister didn’t seek to negotiate over things like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which alarmingly lowers barriers in accords between the EU and US concerning things such as environmental law, food safety regulation, and banking practices.
The Prime Minister hasn’t even been able to find a consensus amongst his cabinet. Though Cameron and his major Conservative allies George Osborne and Theresa May will be campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU, many of his ministers are pro ‘Brexit’, including London Mayor and deviously cunning idiot-impersonator Boris Johnson, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan-Smith, who, last year, fist-pumped and hollered in the House of Commons during a speech where George Osborne announced savage cuts to tax credits. Such scission will cause deep ruptures within the party that will be difficult to heal.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn argued that the negotiations were more about Tory party politics than genuine reform, calling them a “theatrical sideshow” in Parliament. With Cameron having already made clear that he will not stand for a third term, Johnson, Osborne and May have been made favourites to replace him and their actions are a demonstration of their posturing for the top job. Osborne and May are sticking to the central ground in the hope of having more widespread political appeal, while Johnson has gone renegade in actively campaigning against his own party-line, seemingly seeking popularity with the far-right of the party and those who have already defected to UKIP.
Cameron’s negotiation battlegrounds were deeply flawed from the outset—he raised none of the issues which are most pressing to the EU or the UK. He sought no cooperation or discussion on the migrant crisis which has seen thousands die in desperation and will see so many more perish in the future. Nor did he enquire about the state of the UK and EU steel industry and its workforce in comparison with that of China. Furthermore, the European Union’s attempted bullying of Greece last summer following its peoples’ rejection of austerity, led by Angela Merkel, showed a hostility towards democracy that should be debated and combatted, but has not. The Prime Minister did not see fit to negotiate on any of this, instead seeking measures to further impose his own harsh austerity policies, and allowing himself to be bogged down in relatively meaningless semantics about sovereignty. What should have been a set of reforms which sought to put the UK at centre stage in the fight against such difficulties has amounted to little more than a regression in power that implies a desire to take a hands-off approach, which leaves humanitarian crises to be dealt with by others.
Whatever the outcome, Cameron will certainly struggle to hold on to power. In his New Year interview with the Andrew Marr Show, he declared that he would remain as Prime Minister even if he loses the referendum. But the prospect of losing one of the most significant votes in the country’s history would yield pressure difficult for any leader to handle, let alone one on shaky ground who has already stated that he won’t be around for the next General Election. And even if he wins, the in-fighting amongst his cabinet and backbench Tories will surely cause too much division for the man to retain every minister’s trust. The fallout will be dirty and Labour must be ready to capitalise as it seeks to reassert itself before 2020.
The reality is that Cameron’s deal has ensured that the possibility of the UK leaving the EU has vastly increased, an unbelievably poor piece of politicking and the exact opposite of what he initially set out to achieve. If his last major act as Prime Minister is to set in motion what he describes as the “leap into the dark” a departure from Europe would represent, it would be a fitting finale to a premiership which has offered no light and seen little other than pain and suffering for the most vulnerable.