Coffee House

The EU has just called Cameron’s bluff – and won

19 February 2016

10:40 PM

19 February 2016

10:40 PM

So in the end, David Cameron’s attempt to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership served to remind us of the case for leaving: the EU is designed in such a way that almost no sensible proposal can be passed. Its negotiations start after dinner, and are designed to drag on until 5am – a formula designed to stifle debate, and to wear people down. The Prime Minister was kept waiting until 10pm to be told that he had agreement on a deal – but one perforated by the bullet holes of other member states. The resulting deal is a woeful substitute for the fundamental reform that he rightly set out to achieve. They called his bluff, which is bad in itself. But worse, he has now been sent back to London to try to call the bluff of his country.

It is typical of the EU that the summit should have been obsessed with finer points of detail without anyone being able to address the bigger picture. We have had hours and hours of debate over how much child benefit should be paid to the family of a Polish parent working in Britain whose children remain back home. And even on this, Cameron was defeated: the final deal only allows him to index such payments living standards in the country where the child resides from 2020. A deadline which remind the British that Brussels controls such issues. Meanwhile, a more fundamental issue has not been addressed: that western Europe’s generous welfare policies are simply never going to be compatible with mass migration, whether from outside or inside the EU.

David Cameron’s original proposal – to ban immigrants from receiving benefits for four years – was reasonable, and would not have been a threat to Britain’s many immigrant workers because so few of them claim welfare. It sent an important message: come to Britain to work, and don’t expect to be eligible for full social benefits until you have been contributing to the tax system for several years. It is a template which the EU should be adopting. This is the way to reconcile free movement of people with generous benefits: restrict their availability to newcomers. The EU’s failure to recognise this (and its decision to restrict this to a four-year period where the UK might implement some restrictions) demonstrates that it is structurally unable to respond to such upheavals as the migration crisis, the financial crisis and – now – the welfare crisis.

The UK has been a keen advocate of the ‘four freedoms’ that the EU purports to stand for: free movement of goods, services, workers and capital. The problem is that the EU itself actively opposes free trade, favouring a morally indefensible policy of overt protectionism. Nearly 60 years after it was founded from the European Coal and Steel Community, and more than 20 years after the foundation of the ‘single market’, the EU has made little progress in opening up cross-border trade in services such as banking and insurance. For an economy like Britain’s, which is heavily based on services, this is a serious failing.

Cameron was proposing to rescue Britain’s EU membership: the way he has been treated has been nothing short of shameful. He claimed that his deal offered Britain “the best of both worlds”:  that was his intention. But it has, alas, not been the outcome.

So yes, the EU has batted away his reform proposals and forced him to accept a humiliating simulacrum of his original demands. But Cameron’s reform plans  also represented the only way that the EU can survive. Regardless of the outcome of the UK referendum, the EU needs to reform – or perish. Tonight, the latter option has just started to look a lot more likely.


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Fraser Nelson, James Forsyth and Isabel Hardman will be discussing the forthcoming EU Referendum campaign with pollster Ben Page from Ipsos Mori on 21 March.  Tickets, for subscribers only, are on sale now. To subscribe from £1 a week, click here.

Show comments
  • Marvin

    Cameron began this so called bogus begging for crumbs campaign waving the white flag and stating that no matter what, he would campaign to stay. How does that make him an expert negotiator? It makes him an expert surrender monkey who has come back with three things that were already part of our membership, and one in tatters and useless.

  • rusty

    This is just a smoke screen! Hospitals over budget, doctors on strike and the DWP under ian Duncan Smith are curing benefits to disable people some of them have died or committed suicide and a effort to save money while George Osborne family business ( Osborne and little ) avoided paying tax for 7 years! Trade deals are already in force with out the EU deal, trade will continue! In are involved in wars over the last 40 years so we have an obligation to help refugees fleeing wars we are part of!

  • Jaria1

    Cameron stood little chance he had a weak hand and his opponents were aware of it. They considered that they could offer little or nothing that we want and still win the referendum . Hence no Plan B.
    I think Johnson is aware of this and as a consequence and the increased chances of a closer result may be persuaded to offer more. Johnson speaks of sovereignty which enables our elected MPs to run the country going back to what made most people vote to stay in the last referendum.
    It a shame there’s not a question in the referendum asking if the restoration of our sovereignty would persuade an exit voter to change their mind

  • Marvin

    This spineless traitor of a PM has tried to make monkeys of his own Cabinet, his colleagues Parliament, the Tory voters and the whole country with his watered down garbage, and thank heavens we have not fallen for his narcissistic scaremongering. He is a phoney, and everything he touches turns to sewage.

  • WTF

    Given the very long history of democracy in the UK compared to the history of the EU and most of its member states, ONLY the UK shines bright as a beacon of continued freedoms during adversity. Can the ‘remainiacs’ claim that of un-elected eurorats in Brussels, the interference by France and Germany of EU rules which they bend and twist to suit themselves, I hardly think so. On breaking rules, Italy is almost 500 during 2014, Spain nearly 400 and even Germany almost 300 infractions against EU rules. Britain doesn’t even get a mention and sits with small countries like Latvia who only have 20 infractions.

    Gove makes an impassioned speech to leave and we should listen to him, Britain is the ONLY long term democracy that stood up to war mongering by France, Spain, Italy and Germany over centuries and its time we reclaimed our democracy from the EU.

  • ben

    Why stay as part of an organisation that literally hates you. Only an idiot would stay.

  • Tom Cullem

    Well said. A pity that the country will probably, on 23 June, confirm the EU’s savvy outplaying of the PM, and only in the ensuing years, as the bluff becomes ever better delineated, and the EU continues to cave in on itself because of its failure to anticipate and prepare for the migrant crisis, and its blackhearted deal with Turkey begins to be felt, only then will the REMAIN voters realise how they were duped: in Westminster and Brussels.

    The only winning “deals” struck recently were by the EU against the UK, in the short term, and in the longer term, Turkey’s against the EU.

    There comes a point where compromise equals failure. Cameron’s charade here is a perfect illustration of same.

  • WTF

    There’s lies, statistics and lame posts by the “Remaniacs”, but here’s what Cameron achieved, or more to the point failed at !

    1/ In work benefit concessions can be voted out by the European Parliament
    – He hasn’t got a contractually binding agreement as negotiating with Brussels but beholden to the EU parliament for signing off is not a deal. Analysis- A failure !

    2/ Child benefits will be linked to the cost of living of the nationality of the applicant meaning some
    children will get more benefits in say Germany than British kids get in the UK. Vague wording on other aspects which can be voted against by EU parliament. Analysis- A failure !

    3/ Protection for non Euro states. If the euro zone needs more money it can still get it from
    central EU coffers that the UK pays into. Analysis- A failure !

    4/Promises that references to ever closer union won’t be linked to the UK. A promises is NOT a legal contract. Analysis- A failure !

    5/ A veto for blocking unwanted legislation was not delivered, what planet does Rentoul live on.
    Analysis- A failure !

    6/ Sovereignty for UK in the same manner as German high courts.
    Analysis- A failure !

    So how “Remainiacs” can claim a victory or suggest leavers are worried, is BS, Cameron failed in all of these.

    Here are the things he promised the electorate he would fight for but abandoned !!!

    Charter of Fundamental Rights. In 2009, Mr Cameron promised a complete opt-out
    of the charter, which further extends human rights laws.

    Social and employment laws. In 2010, Mr Cameron pledged to claw back powers from Brussels, but this was quietly dropped.

    Working time directive. In 2012, he promised to change the law that includes the contentious 48-hour maximum working week.

    Common Agricultural Policy. Repeated calls for reform of farming subsidies, but no sign of any change yet.

    On Waste. In 2009, he promised to end the European Parliament’s‘absurd’ practice of meeting in Strasbourg as well as Brussels.

    So what did we get from Camerons deal with the EU, we got nothing, rien, nichts, nada, niente, well you get the picture we got ****** over well and truly by the EU, time to leave !

  • BoiledCabbage

    Boris, if youre reading this, lead Britain to Independance, like the Yanks threw of the British yoke, rid us of these EU chains. We can be a soverign nation once again!

    • Mary Ann

      The outers must be getting worried if the Bullingdon boy is the best you can do.

      • WTF

        Read and digest the above on the facts, I know you find facts inconvenient but give it a try for once !

      • sidor

        Is this your best argument for remaining?

      • WTF

        Camerons deal with the EU is like me selling you my laptop for $250, that’s the fundamentals
        and we can agree on a deal, so lets shake on it. Oh, I forgot to tell
        you the hard drive is ****** and the battery is shot but they’re mere
        DETAILS. Bet you’d be p***** after handing over the money !!!!

      • Tom Cullem

        And Mr Cameron is a representative of . . . ?

        By all means align yourself with the amoral Goldman Sachs JPMorgan crowd who raped the West’s economy and then, without a backward glance, once safe from all accountability again, went right back to their old games only by new names. I believe “bespoke” is the term they use now for those bundles of junk.

        Good lord. If you believe the OUT voters in the UK are the only people looking at the EU and realising how close to disintegration Schengen is, you really should try trolling a few other places: Der Spiegel, Politico – good god, even American journos like Thomas Friedman are warning about the cliffs in front of the EU.

        Why is it that people on these blogs seem to be here just to vent and call each other names rather than addressing the issues?

        Have you, e.g., looked at the poll ratings for the AfD in Germany in its upcoming three regional elections? Do you ever bother to factor into your blind worship of this sclerotic institution that the real basis of Merkel’s desperation to get a deal with Turkey that will cost EU taxpayers billions is to demonstrate that she has gained “control” of the migrant crisis, which will increase 1,000-fold with the spring weather and Putin’s relentless bombings, in order to keep the AfD from doing well in those regional elections? And that if they do do well, that is another dead canary in the mine of the EU?

        Or would you rather discuss the Bullingdon Club?

        Wake up!

  • Dominic Stockford

    I think I’m going to start learning Norwegian. I may have somewhere to go then.

    • King Zog

      Nul points.

    • sidor

      Some learned German in 1939.

      • Dominic Stockford

        That’s because they thought they were coming here.
        Norway has a sovereign wealth fund (and surplus), isn’t in the EU, and has no desire to thrust itself upon others. If we vote in then it is one place we can go that is out, of the EU and the insanity that goes with it.

  • paul

    Cameron is a total political lightweight he is an arrogant overgrown public schoolboy bully who tries to throw his weight around and the European Union are used to his tantrums & hissy fits the Tories or Nasty Party only look after themselves that is why we have 13M people in poverty yet we are the 5th richest Nation in the World which does not add up when you present yourself as a Civilised Democratic Society.

    • King Zog

      You might think about posting another comment with all the punctuation marks you left out of that one. Like e.e. cummings, if he was on Disqus.

  • The Masked Marvel

    We have had hours and hours of debate over how much child benefit should be paid to the family of a Polish parent working in Britain whose children remain back home. And even on this, Cameron was defeated: the final deal only allows him to index such payments living standards in the country where the child resides from 2020.

    I had actually forgotten about this charming little detail of EU membership, focusing instead on silly things like regulations, national sovereignty, and the rule of law. But the fact that Britain has to pay anything to support children living with other adults in other countries who can pay their benefits sums up the entire travesty in a nutshell, really.

  • Maureen Fisher

    If we vote to stay in, we will be bailing Italy out next, a corrupt state run by the Mafia.

    • sidor

      You didn’t bail Greece: you bailed the German and French banks. That was the main effect of the Merkel’s austerity in the EZ.

      • Maureen Fisher

        Greece and Italy have not collected taxes for years and are corrupt from top to bottom. Hardly a sign of success.

        • sidor

          Italy was a rapidly developing successful economy before they joined the EZ. And the idea that you can get out of recession by taxation is imbecilic. Finland too happened in a long-time recession with its high level of taxation. Common currency is an economic disaster.

      • Maureen Fisher

        “You bailed the German and French banks.” Another good reason to leave. Thanks.

        • sidor

          Correct. You are welcome.