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Coffee House

Will voters feel Cameron’s confidence about European reform?

11 May 2014

11:13 AM

11 May 2014

11:13 AM

Why is David Cameron so confident that he’ll get what he wants from his renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with Europe? Today on the Andrew Marr Show he managed to advocate Britain voting ‘yes’ in the 2017 referendum before he’s even started changing the terms of the membership voters would be backing. His reasoning for this was firstly that ‘I’m someone who has a very positive, optimistic plan for this country’ (a convenient contrast with Ukip), and secondly because he has a good track record of getting what he wants in Europe.

One of the achievements that the Prime Minister always cites when he talks about his ability to achieve the changes he wants is the EU Budget cut. This always causes a little bit of spluttering in eurosceptic quarters, as the Prime Minister seems to have conveniently forgotten that it was a rebellion in the Commons that he and the whips got very aerated about that gave him the ‘mandate’ in the negotiations to get what he wanted.

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This rather undermines his argument that voters should back the optimistic party: if one of his most surprising achievements was partly because Parliament sent a tougher signal than he would have wanted, then why shouldn’t Conservative eurosceptics push him further and scare EU leaders by threatening Brexit, and why shouldn’t natural Conservative voters ‘help’ the Prime Minister by backing Ukip and giving eurocrats the heebie-jeebies at the thought of a party that is unequivocally ‘out’ gaining further traction?

This is the argument that MPs who are campaigning on the doorstep hear over and over again from their own voters. ‘They think it’ll help Cameron for them to vote Ukip because even though they support what he’s doing and are pretty happy with it, they want to show the EU that they’re serious about getting reform,’ says one MP after a round of canvassing.

But while Cameron argued that ‘we are all convinced that it is possible to achieve these changes’, he wasn’t confident enough to give a straight answer on whether he would give his party a free vote in the referendum.

As for what it is that he does want from his renegotiation that he’s so confident about, the Prime Minister didn’t add anything particularly surprising to his sketchy shopping list. But it’s worth setting out what that shopping list is from today’s interview:

– Ever-closer union will not apply to Britain. This will require treaty change, the Prime Minister said.
– Reform of freedom of movement and transitional controls so that EU citizens do not have freedom to move to get a job until their country’s income per capita is at a certain level. And he could oppose further enlargement until these reforms were secured.

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