The controversy of the EU deal

What does the proposal from the EU mean for Cameron in delivering a renegotiated membership deal?

On Tuesday Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, published his response to David Cameron’s call for a reformed UK membership in the European Union (EU). According to the document, the UK could see a watering down of social benefits – dubbed an “emergency brake” – which would initially limit the social benefits EU citizens can claim and subsequently gradually increase their eligibility over the course of four years. A ‘red card’ was also considered, which can stop unwanted legislation from the EU has been agreed – but on the condition that it is backed up by 55% of the European Parliament. These are but two facets of the response, and the Prime Minister is seeking reform are in the areas of sovereignty, competitiveness, and economic governance.

In his statement, Tusk asserts that the proposal he puts forward is a good basis for a compromise, and both him and Cameron have acknowledged that much work remains. Following its publication Cameron has stated that he would be ready to opt in. However, this has certainly not been the view of some of his Eurosceptic backbenchers and reportedly his Cabinet members.

Many have during the course of Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning openly criticised the deal, feeling slightly underwhelmed with the limited reforms offered by Brussels. Almost every newspaper’s front page is covered with critique of the deal Tusk proposed, calling it limited in scope and unsatisfactory. Steve Baker MP, the founder of the Conservatives for Britain Eurosceptic group, colourfully called the proposal “polishing a poo”. Liam Fox MP, another leading politician in the Leave group, affirmed that every proposal the Government had put forward had been watered down and would not be enough to satisfy the British population. Boris Johnson MP, and Mayor of London, has emphasised that there is “much, much more that needs to be done” for the Prime Minister to reach a satisfactory deal with the EU.

What is more, Cameron faced the House of Commons on Wednesday and argued that the deal was good. During the session however he found considerable opposition. The conservative nature of the deal undoubtedly only energises the Leave supporters, and further cements the already prominent divisions within his party. In fact, it has been reported that four Cabinet members are prepared to rebel and openly argue for Britain to leave the EU.

This marks the start of a considerable uphill battle. If parts of the renegotiated deal are not sufficient to address at least some of the concerns in a substantive way – both for Cabinet members but also backbenchers and members from the opposing parties, it will give the Leave campaign considerable ammunition for the referendum, which is expected to be held this summer (June 23rd to be more precise). The Prime Minister needs to persuade at least some of the critics that the proposed deal constitutes a good platform upon which further negotiations can take place; otherwise it will weaken his position to spearhead the Remain campaign.

Yet persuading backbenchers and parts of his Cabinet is only the half of the battle. While the question will be put to the British people to vote on, the details of the proposal must also be supported by the other member states. Cameron has two weeks to convince the other 27 member states that the proposal is in the best interest for all member states. In fact, member states have today also held their own debate on the proposed deal, and the reception has been mixed. MEPs have expressed mainly confusion over the legal foundation of the proposed terms.

It is questionable whether it is possible to strike a deal that will be agreed by member states as well as appease the Leavers – or at the very least those voters that remain on the fence. The latter will be pushing for more fundamental changes, some of which that are bound to challenge the very foundation of the EU, whereas the former will want to get a deal that will not have a detrimental impact on their own citizens. It will be a tough balance for Cameron in his work leading up to the Brexit referendum. The closer we move towards a referendum, the less likely this seems.

Do you want to know what the referendum can mean for your business? The Debate has previously covered the details of Cameron’s pledge to the EU and what it means for business.