By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
On Tuesday British Prime Minister David Cameron will deliver a warning to European leaders that he will consider banging the drum for the ‘out’ campaign in the run up to the referendum if his demands for reform are “met with a deaf ear”.
The letter to Donald Tusk will essentially formalise his arguments for reform to date, giving him the political weight to convince Britons they are not on a conveyor belt to a European “superstate”. He will also challenge both the “Remain” and “Leave” campaigns, asking the former how it can defend the status quo and the latter what being outside the EU would mean for our economic security.
This politics vs economics debate has been largely ignored in discourse thus far. The out campaign focusses solely on the later. Better Off Out, a cross-party campaign group that works to take Britain out of the European Union, outlines ‘freedom to control our national borders’, ‘freedom to restore Britain’s special legal system’, ‘freedom to deregulate EU laws’ and ‘freedom to save the NHS from EU threats’ among its top 10 reasons to leave, all of which are political issues, as well as the ‘freedom to restore British customs and traditions’, which is the token xenophobic one.
On the other hand, the Stronger In campaign has a news page dominated by economic debates. A report from the CBI stressing that “For business, the benefits of EU membership outweigh the disadvantages” and an independent study which finds staying in Europe means 790,000 new UK jobs and £58bn a year to the UK economy.
Sky News’ ‘Reasons For And Against’ Europe demonstrates this chasm nicely:
Reasons To Stay
- Millions of jobs are linked to our EU membership *Economic
- Some of Britain’s biggest trading partners are in the EU *Economic
- It’s easier than ever for us to work and travel abroad *Economic
- Crime fighting *Political
- Influence in the world *Economic and Political
Reasons To Leave
- Border control back in our hands *Political
- We could make a large membership fee saving *Political
- Institutions are seen as lacking democracy *Political
- Other countries successfully go it alone *Political and Economic
- Get rid of any threat to Britain’s military freedom *Political
Here’s the rub. The only way we can change the politics of Europe is from within, and we can’t hope to enjoy the economic benefits of the EU from outside. And the key to making that case – which underpins Cameron’s argument that he will back the ‘In’ campaign if Europe is open to reform – is how Tusk and Europe react to the Prime Minister’s requests for reform.
Recently Europe has been cagey about Britain’s renegotiation of its membership with Europe, and rightly so. We already enjoy several privileges not afforded to other member states and there are significant political movements in other nations – Poland and The Netherlands namely – which would be well within their rights to demand their own concessions if Britain were to be granted theirs.
However, most of what Cameron is proposing isn’t that radical, and there is no immediate call to action on the points that are areas of concern across the Union. So Tusk has an important political card to play here. On the one hand he should be open to renegotiating the marginal aspects of Cameron’s letter to give him political slog back home, and on the other hand he should send a message to the wider European Union that they are open to renegotiation in other areas, which are very much pan-European problems rather than just British gripes.