Do new EU proposals bring Britain back from the brink of a Brexit?
European Council President Donald Tusk released a letter Tuesday outlining draft proposals to address British concerns and keep it in the European Union. Is it enough?
A letter released Tuesday by European Council President Donald Tusk seeks to address British demands for renegotiating the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has previously outlined the main areas of the relationship he sees as ripe for change.
He has been seeking a deal on these issues in advance of a referendum likely to take place later this year, in which the UK will vote on whether to remain a part of the European Union.
Reaction to Mr. Tusk’s proposals has so far been mixed, as people seek to assess its impact and determine whether it is enough to keep Britons from voting to leave.
“We said we needed to deliver in four key areas, this document shows real progress on that front,” Mr. Cameron said . “I can say, hand on heart, I have delivered the commitments made in my manifesto.”
Not everyone was quite so effusive in their praise of Tusk’s letter, nor of the prime minister’s negotiations.
“Even an escapologist as slippery as David Cameron, no stranger to breaking promises on the EU, cast-iron or otherwise, found himself unable to defend his worthless package of so-called reforms at today’s press conference,” said Arron Banks of Leave.EU, a campaign group seeking to take the UK out of the EU.
Former UK defense secretary Liam Fox, supporter of Vote Leave, the other group campaigning to sever ties with the EU, said: “None of these changes even come close to the fundamental changes promised to the public. We are being asked to risk staying in the EU based on the back of empty promises from the EU that are not even backed up in Treaty.”
Such reactions are perhaps not surprising, given the nature of the groups they represent, but it is true to say that even this set of proposals has yet to be approved by the rest of the EU member countries, who are set to hash it out during a summit on Feb. 18-19.
And, as pointed out by The Spectator, a British magazine generally supportive of the prime minister’s Conservative party, “Pro-Brexit campaigners have argued that IOUs for future treaty change won’t be believed by the British people in the referendum, and this statement merely commits leaders to discussing possible treaty change, rather than states that it will happen."
So, what does the letter say?
“Keeping the unity of the European Union is the biggest challenge for all of us and so it is the key objective of my mandate,” begins Tusk. “It is in this spirit that I put forward a proposal for a new settlement of the United Kingdom within the EU.”
The suggested deal then tackles four main areas: ensuring fair representation of EU members not enrolled in the euro, as well as those that are; efforts to cut red tape; clarification that the UK “is not committed to further political integration”, something of particular concern in light of the EU’s stated aim of “ever-closer union”; and, finally, immigration.
It is, perhaps, proposals on this last point that have caused most disagreement.
The Independent’s headline for this entire story reads “EU refuses to give David Cameron the four-year ban on EU migrant benefits he asked for." The Spectator concurs, calling it a “weaker benefits deal."
“The implementing act would authorize the Member State (PDF) to limit the access of Union workers newly entering its labor market to in-work benefits for a total period of up to four years from the commencement of employment,” reads the draft decision.
“The limitation should be graduated, from an initial complete exclusion but gradually increasing access to such benefits to take account of the growing connection of the worker with the labor market of the host Member State.”
This falls far short of what Cameron wanted, a complete ban on in-work benefits for immigrants their first four years, and he freely admitted it would make it hard to meet his party’s manifesto pledge of cutting immigration to below 100,000 people per year.
In spite of this, there were those who welcomed the deal, albeit cautiously.
The Institute of Directors, a group supporting business and its leaders, described the proposals as “better than we expected."
The CBI, a UK business lobbying organization, said, “This is an important milestone on the way to a deal that could deliver positive changes to the EU that will benefit not just the UK, but the whole of Europe."
And what of the people? Where do they stand?
A poll by YouGov on Jan. 29 indicated that 42 percent of people would vote to leave the EU, compared with 38 percent who would choose to stay.
Just a few days earlier, Ipsos MORI conducted a similar poll and found that 55 percent actually want to stay and only 36 percent want to leave.
Clearly, there is everything still to strive for.
At the very least, in the words of Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen on Twitter, “letter from Tusk on UK in EU good basis for negotiations."