After all the hype about the ‘renegotiation’, the result was to quote Jacob Rees-Mogg ‘thin gruel’. We were promised nothing less than a ‘fundamentally reformed EU’ and re-casting of our relationship with the European Union. What we have been given is business as usual. Although the nation held its breath through thirty hours of talks, Francois Hollande’s comments immediately following their conclusion were telling; “Just because it lasted a long time” he said, “doesn’t mean that much happened.”
The Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was even more explicit; “we are very, very far from the initial British position”.
If the draft deal was a few bones thrown to Britain from the table of the EU, then the final agreement is a barely-concealed insult. Prime Minister Michel’s comments illustrate perfectly that Thursday and Friday resulted in little more than a series of climb-downs for the British Government. If we examine what has been achieved on each of the four main negotiating points, it paints a grim picture of Britain’s supposed ‘influence’ in Europe:
Protection for non-Eurozone countries
Formal protection for countries that do not use the Euro (such as Britain) from the financial regulation created by those that do was top of the Prime Minister’s list of demands in his Bloomberg speech. The draft deal contained some loose phrases about non-Euro countries being able to object to new legislation at the European Council, which will then seek to engineer a “satisfactory solution” and seek a “wider agreement” within the council to the new law.
The Prime Minister has kept these intact in the final document. The fact remains, however, that since 1996 Britain has objected to 72 new laws at Council level, and has not succeeded in blocking a single one. However many platitudes the council is now obliged to make towards the UK, Britain remains powerless to protect itself from the Eurozone if they choose to press home their numerical advantage.
The Emergency Brake
Considering that this was originally conceived as a brake on migration itself, rather than access to benefits, the draft deal was already watered-down. The Prime Minister sought to make this a negotiation success story by extending the length of the brake to thirteen years. In reality, he managed a mere seven, with control over the use of the brake crucially with the European Commission. The effect will not be immediate either, as the brake (such as it is) cannot be fully applied until 2020. To do this at all, Britain must further prove to the satisfaction of the Commission that migration is having a severely detrimental effect on public services in this country. In short, we must ask the EU nicely to be allowed to use our own protections.
Our 2015 manifesto included a pledge to completely end the practice of sending taxpayer’s money to subsidise children who may never even have seen Britain. In this respect, the draft deal was already a failure, in agreeing that these benefits would still be sent overseas, but could be matched to the cost of living in the country in question (undoubtedly an expensive and time-consuming process).
Not even this was achieved. Everyone who currently sends British benefit money overseas will continue to do so with impunity, as the limits will only apply to new claimants. Moreover, no controls can be put in place until 2020 at the earliest. What has been achieved is simply to negotiate the status quo.
This has been hailed as a hard-won victory; an official exemption for the United Kingdom from the drive towards a European super state that unsettles so many in this country. While the language of the draft and final agreements certainly seems to uphold this, what has actually be achieved is a promise to include this in the next rewrite of the EU Treaty. Since this rewrite may not be for several years, and will depend upon the acquiescence of a potentially different group of EU leaders and a number of referendums in other countries, nothing that has been agreed so far has any legal status whatsoever. Whilst the language may be reassuring, it guarantees us nothing.
In short, the much-vaunted ‘renegotiations’ have made a lot of noise without getting us anywhere. The paltry achievements have involved no treaty change, and have been nowhere near the European courts. They could easily founder on a legal challenge and the whims of a European judge. We cannot allow the British public to be misled by these meaningless overtures from Europe. The opportunity is here to seize control of our own destiny and cut ourselves free from the dying European project. We have the means. We need only the will. Vote Leave.