On 10th November 2015 David Cameron laid out his goals for his renegotiation of British membership of the EU. He grouped them into four objectives. These are taken word for word from his speech.
• Objective 1: protect the single market for Britain and others outside the Eurozone. What I mean by that is a set of binding principles that guarantee fairness between Euro and non-Euro countries.
• Objective 2: write competitiveness into the DNA of the whole European Union. And this includes cutting the total burden on business.
• Objective 3: exempt Britain from an ‘ever closer union’ and bolster national parliaments. Not through warm words but through legally binding and irreversible changes.
• And objective 4: tackle abuses of the right to free movement, and enable us to control migration from the European Union, in line with our manifesto.
Objectives One and Two are typical politicians’ meaningless gobbledygook and can be finessed to mean virtually anything a skilled political operator like Cameron can want them to mean. Objective 4, is clear and here Cameron failed outright, as Frank Field a Labour supporter of Brexit and a man respected throughout politics states here, http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/02/frank-field-this-deal-is-awful-labour-supporters-should-vote-out/ There’s a great deal more to be said about the failure of the ‘renegotiation’ to wrest border control back from the EU, and the way the government is attempting to mislead the public in it’s £9.3 million propaganda leaflet and I hope I’ll blog about it in the future. But, what I want to focus on in this blog is the second sentence of Objective 3. It mentions “legally binding and irreversible changes.”
The question is, did Cameron actually achieve that. The answer is that he did not and this has profound implications for those Conservatives, particularly MPs, who are campaigning to remain in the EU on what is a false prospectus. Why is that? From the period immediately after the ‘renegotiation’ questions arose about its legality. Beginning with this article in the Independent on Sunday of February 20th. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-referendum-michael-gove-david-cameron-brexit-national-security-a6886711.html Please note, it’s from the Europhile Independent, not the evil Europhobes in the Telegraph, Mail and Express. The vital two paragraphs are these:
“The IoS can reveal that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, warned the Prime Minister that his pledge to change the EU treaties to lock in his reforms may never happen. A leaked diplomatic report of the Brussels talks reveals that Ms Merkel told fellow EU leaders not to be overly concerned about Mr Cameron’s demand for treaty changes because “on the question of amending the Treaties, we do not know if we ever will have a change of them”. The revelation undermines a key claim of Mr Cameron’s renegotiation.
The Prime Minister boasted that Britain would get a special exemption from ever closer union and protections for the City of London guaranteed in treaty change.”
We all know that Angela Merkel is the uncrowned Queen of Europe. We also know that Germany is its chief paymaster and in this leak to the IoS she is effectively saying that Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ isn’t worth the paper its written on. Let’s get that straight, the most influential (by several light years) politician in Europe says Cameron’s deal is non-binding. Now, it’s just conceivable that Mrs Merkel made a mistake, but this week we have discovered that Mrs Merkel is not alone in her understanding of the non-binding nature of Cameron’s ‘deal’. The Vice President of the European parliament, one Alexander Graf von Lambsdorff announced in an interview with Euractiv, available here, http://www.euractiv.com/section/uk-europe/interview/graf-lambsdorff-eu-clearly-went-too-far-in-brexit-concessions/
“Who counts as the “the European Union” here? Member state leaders have met within the framework of the European Council, but their agreement is in no way a document of the European Union, but a text of hybrid character, which is unspecified and not legally binding…. At the moment, the whole thing is nothing more than a deal that has been hammered out down the local bazaar. The European Union, however, is a community of law, in which there are regulated responsibilities. If the British are going to put all their eggs in one basket, in a promise made like this, which has not yet complied with our clean process of law, then, for me, this process of law is more important and preferable.”
I have to say I find being lectured by a Graf (as in Zeppelin) on the Rule of Law somewhat irksome, after all we did invent it (the Rule of Law that is, not the Zeppelin). But, in fairness, he has a point. The deal is not legally binding. That requires treaty change and there has been no treaty change. It can’t be any clearer. The ‘renegotiation’ was a total failure, there is no reformed EU and we have not fundamentally altered our relationship with it. The Vice President of the EU parliament, who one imagines, is a man of some influence, says Cameron’s ‘deal’ is invalid. The EU has not actually agreed to do anything yet, and it does not have to keep a promise it never made. We are being taken for a ride by our own Prime Minister.
What are the implications of this for Conservative ‘Remainians”? The clauses of the Conservative Party Manifesto on the EU state, on p72 ”We say no to ‘ever closer union’. No to a constant flow of power to Brussels. No to unnecessary interference.” Then on p73 “we want national parliaments to work together to block unwanted legislation. And we want an end to our commitment to ‘ever closer union’ as enshrined in the Treaty to which every EU country has to sign up.”
What Graf von Lambsdorff has done is shown that with respect to the EU, the Conservative Party’s Manifesto commitments in 2015 are worthless. Every Conservative Candidate in the 2015 election stood on that Manifesto. So what? you might ask, since when do politicians keep Manifesto commitments? Well, actually they do. Manifesto Commitments are almost always kept; they just very rarely have the effect their ‘optimistic’ proponents believe. In 40 years of political experience as both an activist and academic, I can’t recall such an act of breath-taking cynicism.
It beggars belief that the Prime Minister and most of the cabinet are attempting to perpetuate such a gigantic fraud on the British electorate. Why then are more than 50% of the Conservative Parliamentary Party, and all but five cabinet ministers going along with this charade? There are three possibilities, and none of them do either the Prime Minister or the Conservative ‘Remainians’ in parliament any credit whatsoever.
The first is the Prime Minister did not expect to win an overall majority (and very few people did expect a Conservative majority government) and he consented to putting the referendum commitment into the Manifesto to grab votes from UKIP and hang on to Tory activists (like me) who might have been tempted by UKIP, had the referendum commitment not been made. The commitment could then have conveniently negotiated away during the talks leading up to a new coalition agreement. When against all the odds the Conservatives won a majority Cameron decided to dispose of the referendum as quickly as possible, accepting the tiniest fig leaf imaginable, to cover his ‘renegotiation.’
The second, is that the PM and most of the cabinet do believe the nonsense being spewed out by ‘StrongerIn’. They honestly believe Brexit really will usher in the apocalypse. I’ll be blogging on that in future, but let’s imagine for the moment Cameron, Osborne and most of the cabinet do believe what they’re saying (difficult I know). In that case promising a referendum to scupper UKIP was an act of almost criminal irresponsibility. The Prime Minister and his cabinet should have been promoting the security Britain allegedly enjoys in the EU. They should have taken the statesmanlike line; “we know the EU is unpopular but it is vital we stay in, it would be catastrophic for us to leave, so we daren’t risk the country’s future on the vicissitudes of the referendum process. We will therefore stick to our guns and insist on staying in the EU, if you don’t like that, you can always vote for the fruitcakes and loonies in UKIP.” They did not do so, instead, in his speech on 10th November Cameron said “if Britain’s concerns [in the negotiations] were to be met with a deaf ear, which I do not believe will happen…then we will have to think again about whether this European Union is right for us. As I have said before – I rule nothing out.” In fact, until the negotiations were complete, the cabinet’s position was probably best summed up in the phrase: “the Brexiteer critique of the EU is right, but let’s stay in anyway.”
The final reason why so many Conservative Cabinet Ministers and MPs are ‘Remainians’ might be out of loyalty to David Cameron. John Redwood made this point succinctly in his his diary on 13th April, when he said “Never has a cabinet risked so much to argue such an unpopular case when so few of them believe in it.” Redwood went on to suggest that the reason for this, and the support of so many backbenchers, was an extensive whipping operation, subtitling his article “The EU is the face that launches a thousand whips.” Party loyalty, even when ‘encouraged’ by the whips is a vital part of government, but it can be disastrous for the long term future of a party, for example the whipping operation over the Norwegian Debate in 1940 was successful enough to persuade 75% of Conservative MPs to vote for Chamberlain, it was not successful enough to save him, and helped tar the Conservatives with the brush of appeasement, and failure to rearm, which proved so disastrous in the General Election of 1945.
Most likely, though, a combination of all 3 factors is keeping ‘Remainians’ on side in a cause that is becoming more dishonourable by the day. We know now, thanks to Mrs Merkel and Graf Von Lambsdorff, that the government ‘renegotiation’ is a fake. We know that, it hasn’t broken the ratchet of further EU integration. All the issues that were explicitly rejected in the Conservative Manifesto of 2015, ‘ever closer union’, participation in Eurozone bailouts, an EU army and quotas for refugees are still on the table. Since then, if anything, things have become worse. The EU is promising ‘re-energised’ talks for Turkish entry to the EU, with all the implications for immigration that entails, and there will be nothing whatsoever that the UK alone can do about it, because despite the PM, deliberately misleading the House of Commons at PMQs on Wednesday 13th April in his reply to Conservative backbencher Jacob Rees Mogg, we have no control of our borders. That would be so even if we accepted the ‘renegotiation’ at face value.
The fact is the ‘renegotiation’ and Britain’s ‘special status’ that allegedly emerged from it, is not only meaningless but demeans the entire political process. It has made liars out of every candidate who stood on the Conservative Manifesto of 2015 and every activist who supported them. The only course for Conservatives now is to put loyalty to an individual, even though he’s PM, aside and instead be loyal to the people who voted for them, on what was a transparently false prospectus. As there have been no “legally binding and irreversible changes” to our relationship with the EU, that should mean ‘Remainian’ MPs resigning and fighting by-elections on the non ‘renegotiation’; or changing sides and supporting Brexit as the government has failed to deliver the promised changes. In my view, those are the only honourable alternatives.