David Cameron has left the Brussels EU summit, empty-handed. His attempts to reach agreement, with other EU leaders, on what many have described as a seriously weak deal, have failed.
The main stumbling blocks were the attempt to limit benefits for migrants and the British exclusion from so called ever closer union.
The Eastern European countries of Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Czech Republic formed a bloc to oppose the imposition of the so called Emergency Brake. While the opposition was not unexpected, that the countries stuck to their position was. These countries could have easily given in on this because any application of the ‘brake’ would require their subsequent approval and so, just as the so called Brexit people claim, these countries could have applied their opposition at some point in the future.
They chose not to do so and there is speculation that this was because Germany has been talking of ‘punishment’ for these countries because of their refusal to take in more and more migrants/refugees. Chancellor Angela Merkel is in a bind – she can’t go back on her ‘the party’s at mine’ post on FaceBook, which opened Germany’s doors to a flood of refugees – and after the escalating evidence of sexual violence being committed by the, mostly male, refugees, she is facing a growing backlash, at home and so needs to ‘spread the load’. Trouble is, most other European countries are putting up barriers to taking in more refugees. Merkel’s big hope is that Greece fails to meet the recently issued edict on border controls and so Schengen gets suspended, which is a useful stop-gap for Merkel.
So, Merkel’s bluff has been called by the East Europeans and Cameron’s ‘big consensus negotiating success’ evaporated.
Merkel also wasn’t even able to keep France ‘onside’. President Hollande couldn’t really conceal his anger at the number of French people who have migrated to London and the South East, since his election. These folks mainly work in the City and the special privileges that he believes will accrue to the City, by the UK avoiding ever closer integration provide a stark contrast between a growing and successful Finance sector, in London, and an increasingly irrelevant French finance market.
To be fair, Hollande also has to pay attention to the Front National. Marine Le Pen has made the FN electable and threatens to be a serious contender in the next Presidential election. The FN is much less enamoured with the EU than either Hollande’s socialists or Sakozy’s Republicans and so he needs to keep a foot, or at least a toe, in the anti-EU camp> Also, it never does any French politician any harm to have a poke at les Rosbifs.
So, what now for David Cameron?
The deal was always a weak one and many in his own party were against it. This failure leaves him severely weakened. He has staked much on his personal diplomacy and has twisted the arms of his Cabinet colleagues to get behind his deal. Now he has failed on this, his ‘colleagues’ will be expected to run for cover.
Indeed, it has been suggested, that in order to remain in power, Cameron may just proceed with a June referendum and campaign for a ‘Leave’ result so that his hand is strengthened and he can go back to the EU and now say ‘either you give us this or we will leave’.
Of course, the above is fiction or maybe, more accurately ‘wishful thinking’.
Chances are though, Cameron will return and, like Neville Chamberlain before him, will have a 21st century equivalent to ‘the peace in our time’, piece of paper, which he will then try to sell to the British.
How though will Tory ministers react?
George Osborne is said to be the most political of Chancellors. He probably considers the political implications of what tie or underwear he wears, before leaving the house, each day. So will he dare to be bold? He is the heir-apparent to Cameron, will he make the judgement that now is the time for him to step out of Cameron’s shadow and be his ‘own man’? Will he judge that the surest way to kill off UKIP is to take the EU away from them and that an EU-less UKIP will not be anywhere near as potent a force? We can but hope.
No doubt he will weigh the risk of backing the ‘Stay’ camp but must be concerned at the continuing refugee/migrant crisis and its impact on Conservative fortunes. He won’t want to be ‘tarred’ with the accusation that by supporting ‘Stay’ he is jeopardising Britain’s economic future, by tying the UK to the floundering EU one, or that he has done a ‘Merkel’ and left Britain’s doors open to masses (can I say swarms) of migrants from the EU and from outside the EU.
We will see.
Boris Johnson, Osborne’s main rival, remains sitting on the fence. He needs to get off it and state his position. No more being coy.
I struggle to say this but it needs to be said. I hope that Cameron fails, over the next few days. This might lead to the referendum being delayed but that’s okay. The EU is a failed project. This failure will become more apparent over time. A later vote, maybe preceded by a further migration crisis, can only help the Brexit side.
Remember, as I have said here , Vote Leave even if you want to stay in. Cameron’s deal is very, very weak.