It is hard to pin down the view of most Conservative MPs about Britain’s EU membership – Philip Cowley and Tim Bale have a go in today’s Daily Telegraph – but a reasonable take would be that a majority want substantial reform of its terms. During last year’s election, many will have told their constituents and Associations that on the present ones they would choose to leave rather than remain – the position that Michael Gove and Philip Hammond set out before the last election.
This is the background against which they will examine any renegotiation deal which David Cameron strikes. He may gain one later in the month than begins today, thus paving the way for a referendum as early as June. So they should consider carefully what he has asked for previously and what he has asked for now.
Here are ten renegotiation aims which the Prime Minister has first proposed and then dropped.
This history of retreat and abandonment leaves the Prime Minister with the following seven main aims: ending ever-closer union for Britain, protecting Britain from Eurozone meddling, protecting financial services, fast-tracking international trade deals, cutting red tape, more transparency and restoring power to national parliaments. These are to be delivered through the four “baskets” he set out to the Commons last year:
“I have set out the four areas where Britain is seeking significant and far-reaching reforms: on sovereignty and subsidiarity, where Britain must not be part of an “ever-closer union” and where we want a greater role for national Parliaments; on competitiveness, where the EU must add to our competitiveness, rather than detract from it, by signing new trade deals, cutting regulation and completing the single market; on fairness for countries inside and outside the eurozone, where the EU must protect the integrity of the single market and ensure there is no disadvantage, discrimination or additional costs for a country like Britain, which is not in the euro and which in my view is never going to join the euro; and on migration, where we need to tackle abuses of the right to free movement, and deliver changes that ensure that our welfare system is not an artificial draw for people to come to Britain.”
However, as this site has pointed out many times, these aims require treaty change, and –
Eurosceptic Tory MPs have thus, on the one hand, their view that Britain’s relationship with the EU requires major change, and the simple fact that major change is not on offer. This morning’s reports about the “emergency brake” confirm this.
We now have a brake that will apply immediately – which Number Ten is trumpeting as a major win – but which will none the less remain in the hands of the EU institutions. In the words of The Times (£), “he will accept that other EU leaders and institutions retain control of the legal mechanism for implementing it”.
Those Eurosceptic Conservatives can honestly tell their constituents and Associations that for the sake of Party unity they will support the Prime Minister. They can argue that do not want to open the door to any Labour recovery, or disrupt the programme of Conservative reform. They can say that they have changed their minds about the EU altogether.
What they cannot say truthfully is that Cameron is delivering the major reforms which they themselves backed last May. From the highest Cabinet Minister to the lowliest backbencher, they have only one choice if this matters to them: to back Brexit.