This House would vote to stay in the EU after Cameron’s deal

On the 23rd of June 2016 the United Kingdom will hold a referendum on its membership of the European Union. It will be the first such referendum in the UK since 1974 and there is a real chance of the country exiting the EU. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, will lead the campaign to stay in the Union having completed a renegotiation with other EU members. Cameron claims this deal brings enough powers back to Westminster and changes to the Union that it is now worth staying in the Union. Those campaigning to leave, including five of Cameron’s cabinet; Chris Grayling, Ian Duncan Smith, Theresa Villiers, John Whittingdale, and Priti Patel,[1] as well as London Mayor Boris Johnson, believe the changes amount to very little concrete. 

Cameron’s renegotiation deal consists of four broad areas of changes;

Economic governance – ensuring that the UK will not have to contribute to, or be part of, any Eurozone bail out.

Competitiveness – cutting red tape by repealing unnecessary legislation.

Sovereignty – the UK opts out of ‘ever closer union’ and this phrase in the treaties should not be used as a legal basis to extend treaties and EU legislation. Additionally a reaffirmation of subsidiarity and introducing the ability of national parliaments between them to throw out changes being imposed by the council.

Free movement – a break on social security benefits and restrictions on other benefits such as child benefit. [2]

Prime Minister Cameroon’s EU renegotiation deal is mostly important for the campaign it starts off more than the deal and treaty itself. Whether the UK remains in or votes to leave will be the most important outcome. The deal itself however should not be discounted while almost everyone in the UK would agree it does not include all the changes the UK would like to the EU it does make some significant impacts on its own terms; in formalising two speed Europe, in enshrining competitiveness, and in formalising how Eurozone and non-Eurozone countries interact.

 

This debate will not discuss the broad arguments for and against remaining in the European Union. Instead it will focus on the details of the deal brought back from Brussels, whether it constitutes the change its negotiators have hailed it as being, and whether it is a sufficient change that it should change voters’ minds.

[1] Payton, Matt, ‘EU referendum: The Cabinet Ministers voting to leave – and stay in – the EU’, The Independent, 20 February 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-referendum-which-cabinet-ministers-are-rooting-for-brexit-a6885776.html

[2] Read the full text of the deal at, Annex 1, Decision of the Heads of State or Government, meeting within the European Council, Concerning a new settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union, Conclusions, 18 and 19 February 2016, http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/02/19-euco-conclusions/

 

Title 
A fundamental change to Britain’s relationship with Europe
Point 

It was too much to hope that the deal might involve a complete change for the EU as a whole. However it has the potential to fundamentally change the UK’s relationship with the EU by putting it on a much more secure footing. 

The most fundamental change is the acceptance of two Europes. By accepting the UK opting out of ever closer union in perpetuity there is now an acceptance that the whole of Europe is not necessarily even moving to the same goal. As the deal states there can be “a deeper degree of integration among the Member states that share such a vision of their common future, without this applying to other Member States.”[1] The second change is increasing democratic accountability through increasing the power of national Parliaments. Now if 55% of national parliaments reject a European Council proposal the Council will need to think again.[2]

[1] Annex 1, P.17

[2] Annex 1, P.17

Counterpoint 

While it is quite correct that the UK should not have to be signed up to taking part in a European super-state the renegotiation does not represent a big leap forward. With its’ opt outs that are not time limited the UK was already not further integrating with the EU. The change to accepting the de facto truth is not a big one. Allowing national parliaments a say may have a long term impact, but under the current mechanism it means almost nothing. It seems unlikely that 55% of member states national governments (which of course signed the deal) are ever going to lose in their parliaments. The bar is raised even higher by their being a time limit of 12 weeks.

Title 
Secures a special place for the UK
Point 

The renegotiation deal ensures that the UK has a special place in Europe. One where it is both a leading part of the club with a major say in the council, commission and parliament, and is also outside of those areas such as the Eurozone and anything relating to the Euro which the UK does not wish to join.

Donald Tusk, current president of the European Council, says that the deal "strengthens Britain's special status";[1] the renegotiation document “recalls” the special position already holds listing previous opt outs on joining the Euro and Schengen among others. This deal adds to that an opt out from ever closer union.

With such a privileged position within the EU secured Britain should not rush to the exit so giving away such a status. As European politicians have made clear the UK will not receive such favourable treatment when outside the EU.[2]

[1] BBC News, ‘EU deal gives UK special status, says Cameron’, 20/2/16 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35616768

[2] Verhofstadt, Guy, ‘Message to Michael Gove: this deal is binding, and it’s the best Britain will get’, The Guardian, 24 February 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/24/michael-gove-deal-britain-member-state-eu

Counterpoint 

A minor addition to what the UK has is hardly securing a special place for the UK. Moreover there is no reason to keep such a position if it is not working for Britain. The renegotiation deal did not succeed in making the EU work how Britain would like – a move back to greater national sovereignty – so Britain is better off out. Indeed some, such as former Conservative leader Michael Howard argue “There is only one thing that just might shake Europe’s leaders out of their complacency: the shock of a vote by the British people to leave… If the UK voted to leave, there would be a significant chance that they would ask us to think again [with greater concessions].”[1]  

[1] Howard, Michael, ‘David Cameron’s reform bid has failed – it’s time to go’, The Telegraph, 25 February 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/12173888/Michael-Howard-David-Camerons-reform-bid-has-failed-its-time-to-go.html

Title 
Ensures Europe stays of the track Britain wants it to be on
Point 

Britain’s ideal for the European Union is a union that is founded upon free trade; an economic not a political block. The agreement ensures that the European Union remains on this path in two ways. First through agreement on competitiveness where members pledged the “lowering administrative burdens and compliance costs on economic operators, especially small and medium enterprises, and repealing unnecessary legislation”.[1] Second it is explicitly stated “references [in EU treaties] to ever closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom”[2] which ensures that the UK will never have to become part of a political union but can instead remain in an economic partnership with the EU even if the EU itself moves towards political union.

[1] Annex 1, p.15

[2] Annex 1, p.16

Counterpoint 

The only way to ensure that the UK does not become part of a political union is to leave entirely. The European Scrutiny Committee of the UK Parliament has concluded that the “ever closer union” is largely symbolic so guarantees against it amount to little.[1] Meanwhile the pledges about competitiveness are vague. It leaves as an open question what are the administrative burdens that are going to be lowered or what legislation might be repealed. Without specifics is it likely that any such repeal will take place?

[1] European Scrutiny Committee, ‘Voters must know EU changes will require Treaty amendment’, parliament.uk, 15 December 2015, http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/european-scrutiny-committee/news-parliament-20151/eu-renegotiation-report-published-15-16/

Title 
The renegotiation makes little difference
Point 

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg described the deal as “pretty thin gruel” which hits the mark. The British Prime Minister has not been able to go nearly as far as he would like for example with his pledge on migrant benefits where Cameroon failed to ensure that all who claim must contribute to the UK for at least four years. Instead there is a break that the UK can use if migrants are putting excessive pressure on public services. Meanwhile Cameron failed to get anything at all on the Working Time Directive that restricts working hours in the EU.[1]

More important is what Cameron did not even demand; greater democracy in the EU, bringing power back to national parliaments, or opting out or significant changes to common agricultural and fisheries policies.

[1] Foster, Peter, ‘EU deal: What David Cameron asked for… and what he actually got’, The Telegraph, 20 February 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/12136337/EU-deal-What-David-Cameron-asked-for-Brussels-Brexit.html  

Counterpoint 

This is the case in all negotiations. Both sides start out with their maximalist demands that they would like to have and both sides compromise and reduce their own demands until they meet in the middle. During this compromise many ideas and proposals are dropped or watered down until both sides get the core of what they want. Cameron was never going to get all of his demands and it is disingenuous to suggest this could have happened. 

Title 
The deal makes no difference to migration
Point 

David Cameron failed to even negotiate on the area that the people of the UK most want changed; cutting migration. The only way to do this is to end freedom of movement through the Schengen agreement; something that was never on the table. As a result the changes are minor ones to benefits which the Office for Budgetary Responsibility has said “changes to benefit rules are unlikely to have a huge impact on migration flows” indeed “In my opinion: not much”.[1]

Polling by ComRes within days of the agreement showed that 53% of the British public believe there will be no change in migration as a result of the deal while roughly equal numbers think it will increase as decrease; 21% to 22%.[2]

[1] May, John, and Whale, Sebastian, ‘OBR: Four-year ban on benefits 'unlikely' to cut EU immigration significantly’, Politics Home, 8 December 2015, https://www.politicshome.com/home-affairs/articles/story/obr-four-year-ban-benefits-unlikely-cut-eu-immigration-significantly

[2] Slack, James, ‘A complete failure: Voters offer damning verdict on PM's Europe deal with three-quarters claiming migration will not change as a result of his reforms - and could even increase’, 24 February 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3461236/A-complete-failure-Voters-offer-damning-verdict-PM-s-Europe-deal-three-quarters-claiming-migration-not-change-increase-result-reforms.html

Counterpoint 

Migration is a benefit to the UK financially. Most migrants don’t claim benefits which is why such benefit rules changes will not make much difference. Cutting migration would be easier outside the European Union however even then there is unlikely to be scope to cut migration as far as skeptics want. Net migration from outside the EU in year ending September 2015 was 191,000[1] far above the Conservative target to get migration below 100,000.

[1] White, Nicola, ‘Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: February 2016’, ons.gov.uk, 25 February 2016, http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/internationalmigration/bulletins/migrationstatisticsquarterlyreport/february2016

Title 
The renegotiation agreement could yet fall through
Point 

At the moment is simply an agreement between the leaders of the states within the EU. Until it is written into treaties the agreement is vulnerable. There are two ways in which it could fall through or be changed. The first is for the European Court to declare part of it incompatible with the EU treaties. The Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove has argued "The facts are that the European Court of Justice is not bound by this agreement until treaties are changed and we don't know when that will be".[1]

The second is that the European Parliament still needs to approve as would any legislature when given a proposal by the executive branch.[2] Members of the European Parliament have refused to rule out that it could be rejected.[3] Even then nothing is secure until there is treaty change as the only way the agreement can be legally binding “would be through Treaty amendment, or the equivalent agreement of a Protocol.”[4]

[1] ‘EU reforms ‘not legally binding’ – Michael Gove’, BBC News, 24 February 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-35646004

[2] Peers, Steve, ‘The draft UK/EU renegotiation deal: is it ‘legally binding and irreversible’?’, EU Law Analysis, 10 February 2016, http://eulawanalysis.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/the-draft-ukeu-renegotiation-deal-is-it.html

[3] Stone, Jon, ‘David Cameron’s EU deal can’t be legally binding, EU Parliament president Martin Schulz says’, Independent, 16 February 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-camerons-eu-deal-cant-be-legally-binding-eu-parliament-president-martin-schulz-says-a6876861.html

[4] European Scrutiny Committee, ‘Voters must know EU changes will require Treaty amendment’, parliament.uk, 15 December 2015, http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/european-scrutiny-committee/news-parliament-20151/eu-renegotiation-report-published-15-16/

Counterpoint 

Neither are at all likely. Gove’s opinion has been rejected by the Attorney General saying “It has legal effect from the point the UK says it intends to remain in the EU, and the European court must take it into account. The job of the European court is to interpret the agreements”.[1]

Similarly the European Parliament is very unlikely to reject the deal which has been agreed by the leaders of all member states. MEPs have generally shown support for the UK remaining in Europe and the leader of the EPP, the biggest group, has stated “We support the core of the agreement.”[2]

[1] Mason, Rowena, ‘Attorney general rejects Gove claim that EU deal is not legally binding’, The Guardian, 24 February 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/24/european-court-challenge-cameron-deal-michael-gove

[2] European parliament web team, ‘EU Referendum: MEPs Debate the UK's European Future’, Huffington Post, 25 February 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/european-parliament-web-team/eu-referendum-meps-debate_b_9313790.html

Bibliography 

Annex 1, Decision of the Heads of State or Government, meeting within the European Council, Concerning a new settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union, Conclusions, 18 and 19 February 2016, http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/02/19-euco-conclusions/

BBC News, ‘EU deal gives UK special status, says Cameron’, 20 February 2016 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35616768

BBC News, ‘EU reforms ‘not legally binding’ – Michael Gove’, 24 February 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-35646004

European parliament web team, ‘EU Referendum: MEPs Debate the UK's European Future’, Huffington Post, 25 February 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/european-parliament-web-team/eu-referendum-meps-debate_b_9313790.html

European Scrutiny Committee, ‘Voters must know EU changes will require Treaty amendment’, parliament.uk, 15 December 2015, http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/european-scrutiny-committee/news-parliament-20151/eu-renegotiation-report-published-15-16/

Foster, Peter, ‘EU deal: What David Cameron asked for… and what he actually got’, The Telegraph, 20 February 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/12136337/EU-deal-What-David-Cameron-asked-for-Brussels-Brexit.html

Howard, Michael, ‘David Cameron’s reform bid has failed – it’s time to go’, The Telegraph, 25 February 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/12173888/Michael-Howard-David-Camerons-reform-bid-has-failed-its-time-to-go.html

Mason, Rowena, ‘Attorney general rejects Gove claim that EU deal is not legally binding’, The Guardian, 24 February 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/24/european-court-challenge-cameron-deal-michael-gove

May, John, and Whale, Sebastian, ‘OBR: Four-year ban on benefits 'unlikely' to cut EU immigration significantly’, Politics Home, 8 December 2015, https://www.politicshome.com/home-affairs/articles/story/obr-four-year-ban-benefits-unlikely-cut-eu-immigration-significantly

Payton, Matt, ‘EU referendum: The Cabinet Ministers voting to leave – and stay in – the EU’, The Independent, 20 February 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-referendum-which-cabinet-ministers-are-rooting-for-brexit-a6885776.html

Peers, Steve, ‘The draft UK/EU renegotiation deal: is it ‘legally binding and irreversible’?’, EU Law Analysis, 10 February 2016, http://eulawanalysis.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/the-draft-ukeu-renegotiation-deal-is-it.html

Slack, James, ‘A complete failure: Voters offer damning verdict on PM's Europe deal with three-quarters claiming migration will not change as a result of his reforms - and could even increase’, 24 February 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3461236/A-complete-failure-Voters-offer-damning-verdict-PM-s-Europe-deal-three-quarters-claiming-migration-not-change-increase-result-reforms.html

Stone, Jon, ‘David Cameron’s EU deal can’t be legally binding, EU Parliament president Martin Schulz says’, Independent, 16 February 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-camerons-eu-deal-cant-be-legally-binding-eu-parliament-president-martin-schulz-says-a6876861.html

Verhofstadt, Guy, ‘Message to Michael Gove: this deal is binding, and it’s the best Britain will get’, The Guardian, 24 February 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/24/michael-gove-deal-britain-member-state-eu

White, Nicola, ‘Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: February 2016’, ons.gov.uk, 25 February 2016, http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/internationalmigration/bulletins/migrationstatisticsquarterlyreport/february2016

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