Yesterday, in a factory in Wiltshire, David Cameron announced that he had agreed a deal with Donald Tusk (that needs to be ratified at the Brussels summit February 18 and 19th I hasten to add) essentially laying out what the British public will be voting for if they mark “Remain” on their ballot papers come the referendum (which looks more likely than ever to be held in June). So what did he get?
Admittedly less than he’d hoped on the four year in work benefits caps deal (but a four year benefits cap deal nonetheless); the interesting item for me in the whole thing was the red card thing. This gives national parliaments within the EU a great deal more control over halting legislation from Brussels they don’t like. A cornerstone plank of Tory Euroscepticism over the last decade has been the need for a red card system to be in place. Both in public and in private, many Conservative MPs have talked at length about how if we only had some sort of red card option, then they could stomach remaining in the EU. So it was interesting to see Cameron secure this concession only to watch these very same Tory MPs deride it. In the words of Nicolas Soames MP, it was indeed “hypocritical” of them. It demonstrates – as if we didn’t know already – that no relationship with the EU, no matter how favourable, will ever be good enough for a certain type of Conservative MP.
Cameron looked tired – but he’s currently on an exhausting tour of Europe getting his deal, so what would you expect? He’s also gained some weight (now I’m just being bitchy towards him).
There were some key reaction to the speech yesterday – two in particular. Theresa May said she thought it was “the basis of a deal”, which makes it look very likely she is going to not campaign for Leave at the very least. This is huge for Cameron – he’ll want to neutralise the immigration argument as much as possible during the referendum short campaign. May on the other side, saying opposite things about the EU and the ability to control immigration from within, would have carried a lot of weight. So yesterday was a huge victory for Cameron on that front.
The other reaction was more frightening for the prime minister. Boris went on the radio and took the piss out of the deal, basically saying he didn’t think it was good enough. However, I don’t think this means that Boris is going to campaign for Leave. I believe that he just wanted to nail his colours on this to the post, on a crucial day, so that in a leadership contest he can quote himself on the subject to appeal to the Tory membership. He can’t paint himself as the Reluctant European, who went along with the whole thing out of loyalty to David Cameron.
So in summary: a good day for pro-Europeans. While we’re a long way from the finish, many of the worst obstacles to staying in have already been removed. But again, there’s a long way to go yet.