22 February 2016

EU referendum campaign gets underway with Boris Johnson and a number of MPs backing Brexit

The EU referendum will take place on Thursday 23 June 2016. Mayor of London Boris Johnson MP announced yesterday that he will be backing leaving the EU. In his Daily Telegraph column he argues, “[Prime Minister] David Cameron has done his very best, and he has achieved more than many expected. There is some useful language about stopping ‘ever-closer union’ from applying to the UK, about protecting the euro outs from the euro ins, and about competition and deregulation”. “[But] there is only one way to get the change we need, and that is to vote to go, because all EU history shows that they only really listen to a population when it says No…It is time to seek a new relationship, in which we manage to extricate ourselves from most of the supranational elements.”

Johnson joins the six cabinet ministers – Michael Gove, Theresa Villiers, John Whittingdale, Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling and Priti Patel – who announced they would support Leave on Saturday, along with the Conservative candidate to be Mayor of London Zac Goldsmith. 18 MPs from the Fresh Start Project, which examined avenues for EU reform in the last Parliament, this morning declared their support for leaving the EU, while on Saturday six other members said they would back remain.

Speaking to the BBC, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith warned, “The present status of the open border we have right now, many of us feel does actually leave that door open [to future Paris style attacks].” In an interview with The Sun, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale cites cutting immigration as his motivation for backing Leave. He adds, “I am not going to pretend that there aren’t potentially some costs, obviously there may be some costs. I am not going to pretend that there aren’t uncertainties.”

Meanwhile, the other 23 members of the Cabinet confirmed on Saturday that they would be supporting remaining in the EU. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, David Cameron stressed that the UK was better off and safer inside the EU, adding that, “[Leaving] would be a step into the dark, a real risk and uncertainty and that’s just the last thing we need in our country right now”. He also hit out at the suggestion that leaving would boost sovereignty, saying, “You have an illusion of sovereignty but you don’t have power, you don’t have control, you can’t get things done.”

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Business Secretary Sajid Javid argues that leaving “may require us to accept the same blizzard of regulations that’s imposed by Brussels not just on member states, but on countries like Norway and Switzerland that need access to European markets” and that “uncertainty is the single biggest enemy of growth.” He goes on, “The fight for reform is not over and if Brussels fails to recognise that, I can see a time when walking away may be the right thing to do – but in a more benign global economic environment and under a UK Government that makes a credible case for leaving. For now, we stay, and we fight.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reiterated her warning that Brexit would trigger strong calls for a second Scottish independence referendum and warned that Cameron may not help his case for Remain by campaigning in Scotland. Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn said EU membership is “good for jobs, investment and growth”, adding that the whole Labour movement will be campaigning to remain in the EU, though they will make their “own arguments in [their] way to try and win the case.” In response to all these moves the pound dropped sharply against the dollar this morning as fears of Brexit rose.

Source: The Daily Telegraph: Johnson The Financial Times The Daily Mail The Daily Mail: Duncan Smith The Daily Mail The Sun BBC

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Big business backs UK deal and Remain vote

The Financial Times reports that around half of the chairmen and chief executives of FTSE 100 companies have signed up to a letter saying that, “Following the prime minister’s renegotiation we believe that Britain is better off staying in a reformed EU.” It is due to be published tomorrow. Two polls – from the Institute of Directors (IoD) and manufacturers’ trade body EEF – each found that six out of 10 of their members support Britain remaining in the EU.

Chris Cummings, Chief Executive of the City UK, a trade body representing financial firms, welcomed the UK deal. “The real significance of the deal is that it is the first time the EU has accepted that it is a multi-currency union. You cannot underestimate the importance of that,” he said. Meanwhile, Director-General of the British Chambers of Commerce John Longworth said, “If delivered, this deal would change some aspects of the UK’s relationship with the EU. Yet it is inescapable that, deal or no deal, the EU itself remains largely unreformed.”


European media responds to UK-EU deal

Die Welt’s political commentator Alan Posener wrote that Cameron has “done the EU an invaluable service… the Brits have freed the EU from the yoke of the end goal of a political union”. He argued that “Cameron got all he had asked for at the EU summit – and more. For though he sold the outcome as a victory for Britain, in reality he has – along with [European Council President] Donald Tusk – negotiated a reform of the EU as a whole.” Bild’s Editor-in-Chief Nikolaus Blome argued that “There is no longer any uniform movement at the level of 28 [member states]. Whoever wants more Europe, such as Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble, will have to convince their citizens in a smaller group… Ultimately, David Cameron and the EU have done each other a service even it if does not appear as such at first glance.”

An editorial on the front page of Saturday’s Le Figaro entitled “The kiss of death” argued that “If Britain remains in the EU on the conditions it has been offered, it kills it. If it leaves, it kills it too… As it is not combined with a project of collective relaunch, the Brussels compromise puts the worm into the fruit. No-one has reason any longer to bend to the common rules, since one can escape them by means of a little blackmail.”

An editorial in Spanish daily El País argues, “A generous mind-set is one thing, the very high and unjustified price paid for the continued membership of the wayward partner is a very different one… [The price] is disproportionate because it puts into question, albeit in a delimited way, basic EU principles such as free movement of workers and non-discrimination based on nationality. It would have been better to hand [the British] the 30, or 70, million pounds they spend on child benefits paid to [EU] migrants’ children than cave in on the deep foundations of the EU.”

Handelsblatt’s London correspondent Katharina Slodczyk argues that “British eurosceptics are betting that the EU will allow Great Britain continued access to the single market. But that is anything but assured after the bitter battles at last week’s summit.  The heads of state and government only conceded to Cameron’s demands for additional benefits because they do not want to lose Great Britain. If the country were to reject this hard-won offer, there would be no further accommodation and no more goodwill.”


Germany seeks to apply child benefit curbs off the back of UK-EU deal

The German government is seeking to index child benefit payments for non-resident children of EU migrants along the lines of the agreement secured by the UK in its EU renegotiation. “I can very well imagine that we will also apply it in Germany,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Brussels on Friday evening.  Germany’s child benefit is relatively generous – up to £39.73 per week, as compared to £20.55 for the eldest child and £13.55 for subsequent children in the UK. Denmark and Austria have also signalled interest in indexing child benefits for EU migrants.


Kathimerini: Merkel sounded Hollande out over Grexit ahead of crucial Eurogroup last summer

According to Greek daily Kathimerini, German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought up the idea of a temporary Eurozone exit for Greece at a working dinner in Paris on 6 July last year, several days ahead of the 11 July meeting of Eurozone finance ministers when the plan was officially put on the table and then dropped. Hollande opposed the plan, arguing that Greece would not be able to get back into the Eurozone once out. In a separate article, the paper reports that the Greek government is currently working on scenarios that would involve cuts to pensions above €1,000 a month in a bid to get the green light from its international lenders in the upcoming review of its third bailout programme. Athens has also asked the IMF to explain in greater detail why it believes Greece needs to pass fiscal measures worth 4.5% of GDP between now and 2018 – since the Greek government thinks the figure is far lower.


CDU on course for disappointing set of regional election results

Ahead of regional elections in three German states in three weeks’ time – Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt, INSA polling for Bild shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CSU party is on course for a set of disappointing results. In Baden-Württemberg, the Greens lead on 30.5% with the CDU on 30% and the SPD on 16%. In Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU leads on 35% ahead of the SPD on 33% while in Saxony-Anhalt the CDU leads on 30% ahead of Die Linke on 21% and the SPD on 16%. The nationalist Alternative für Deutschland which has been strongly critical of Merkel’s refugee policies is set to win seats in all three regional parliaments – it is on 10% in Baden-Württemberg, 8.5% in Rhineland-Palatinate and 17% in Saxony-Anhalt.


New poll shows Ireland remains on course for hung parliament after upcoming general election

According to the final Ipsos MRBI poll published by The Irish Times ahead of Friday’s general election, Ireland remains on course for a hung parliament. The poll has Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael party in the lead on 28% (unchanged from the previous poll), followed by Fianna Fáil on 23% (+2%), and Sinn Féin on 15% (-4%), while the Labour Party – Mr Kenny’s junior coalition partner – is on 6% (-1%). Smaller parties and independent candidates are on 28% (+3%).


Open Europe briefing: What did the UK achieve in its EU renegotiation?

The reform package being offered to the British public is a step in the right direction. The deal is not transformative, but neither is it trivial. It is the largest single shift in a member state’s position within the EU. The changes help supplement the reforms which have already happened – notably the double majority for Eurozone ins and outs on EU banking rules – and the opt outs which the UK already has on the Euro and Schengen. The UK Government has achieved most of what out it set out to do – though it could have asked for more. That said, it seems unlikely, given the opposition of a number of other member states, that much more substantial change could have been achieved at this point in time. Attention will now turn to arguments on the broader benefits or costs of EU membership, the prospect for future EU reform and the alternatives for the UK outside the EU.

Open Europe’s analysis was cited in The Sunday Times’ leading article. Open Europe’s Nina Schick appeared on BBC News, Germany’s ZDF Heute Journal, RTL and  Al Jazeera English analysing the deal and the next steps in the campaign, while Stephen Booth appeared on BBC Five Live, and Vincenzo Scarpetta appeared on Swiss state broadcaster RSI.

See our full analysis on the deal here, and our liveblog on last week’s summit here.


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