22 June 2015

Priorities for reform

The Daily Telegraph today features the first instalment of the serialised Business for Britain report (which the newspaper helped fund) on the UK-EU negotiations titled ‘Change or Go’ and in particular ten areas of reform that the authors argue David Cameron must secure or opt for withdrawal.

This report will undoubtedly play a role in the coming debate and the priority areas for reform identified in the report are:

  1. The EU must have exempted Britain from the commitment to ‘ever closer union’
  2. The EU must have introduced mechanisms which would reduce the burden of regulation on businesses
  3. Control over social and employment laws must have been returned to the member states
  4. Damaging EU financial laws must have been reversed
  5. A permanent mechanism for protecting the non-Eurozone states must have been introduced
  6. The EU must have shown that it is capable of securing comprehensive free trade deals
  7. There must have been a permanent, lasting reduction in the EU Budget
  8. UK transparency laws must have been introduced in the EU
  9. Control over migration policy must have been restored to the member states
  10. A form of national veto must have been reintroduced

The report draws on the work of Open Europe (and others including the Fresh Start Group of backbench Conservative MPs) and indeed there is much overlap between these proposals and our ‘Blueprint for Reform’.

It is also worth noting that within these ten headings the authors of the Business for Britain report are more categorical in some areas than others.

For example, under the heading calling for the reintroduction of a national veto, the authors’ proposed solutions range from a multilateral ‘red card’ for national parliaments to a unilateral retrospective parliamentary veto. The latter was recently described by the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond as “not achievable” but the former option already has some support among other member states and is an idea which Open Europe proposed back in 2011.

Similarly, under the heading arguing for control over migration policy to be restored to member states, the authors argue that the “very least” the UK should negotiate is the package set out in the Prime Minister’s immigration speech in November 2014, which drew heavily from Open Europe’s proposals to restrict in-work benefits.

On top of this minimum requirement, they argue that “The UK must also push for the Treaty to be reworded so that it refers to the free movement of workers rather than people (‘workers’ should be defined as skilled workers).” Nevertheless, this still falls short of the demands made in some quarters that the UK secures the right to cap EU migration (as recently argued by Steve Baker MP, the head of Conservatives for Britain), which is tantamount to calling for outright withdrawal.

Towards a new relationship

As The Daily Telegraph notes in its editorial:

Having digested this report, no realist would expect Mr Cameron to secure every concession he seeks. But equally, its conclusions suggest that it is perfectly realistic, indeed sensible, for the Prime Minister to be ambitious in his renegotiation efforts. A bold approach would also be sensible diplomacy. Mr Cameron’s fellow leaders must be helped to understand that the British electorate will accept continued EU membership only if that membership changes fundamentally.

The Daily Telegraph, Editorial, 22 June 2015

Leave the EU 24%
Stay in EU but reduce its powers 38%
Leave things as they are 18%
Stay in EU and increase its powers 10%
Work for single European government 4%

This echoes Open Europe’s ‘Blueprint’ which argued that the forthcoming In/Out referendum should not simply be a vote to approve or reject a list of concessions to the UK but rather a mandate for a path to rolling reform, which establishes a new relationship for countries, such as Britain, outside the single currency:

The target should be a new settlement that leads to a genuine change of direction to Britain’s relationship with the EU. It may not be possible to achieve everything before the referendum but, in order to avoid a narrow victory for Yes or No, which would only estrange half the British electorate, fundamental reform will be needed that establishes a path to a multi-form EU.

Open Europe, ‘A blueprint for reform of the EU’

All the polling evidence suggests the EU status quo is deeply unpopular among British voters and that even of those voters inclined to vote Yes the majority favour reducing the EU’s powers.

Ultimately, when casting their vote individuals will have to make up their own minds about whether personal ‘red lines’ have been met, but the only way to secure a lasting, decisive vote is to test the limits of reform before the referendum.