Outside the marginals

A commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010, 2015 & 2017 elections

Dave’s negotiating partners

David Cameron seems to be keeping other European Leaders in the dark about what he wants his “renegotiated arrangements” to look like.

Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas and Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila say David Cameron has so far failed to provide concrete proposals.
BBC News Website, 29 October 2015 : EU referendum: ‘UK yet to reveal reform details’

He also seems to be keeping the European Parliament similarly in the dark:

One member of the European Parliament compared David Cameron’s act to a Beckett play: “We’re waiting for Cameron. But Cameron never turns up.”

Like the characters “waiting for Godot”, European politicians undergo anticipation, frustration, irritation, boredom and the occasion for philosophising about the meaning of it all.

Many regard the British debate as a distraction, an unwanted wilfully created crisis in the middle of a time of crisis – over the euro, Ukraine and above all migration.
BBC News Website, 29 October 2015 : Mark Mardell, Europe waits for Cameron to show his hand

I think this misunderstands what “wor Dave” is doing.

The presumption is that he is negotiating with the EU (probably the Commission and his fellow national leaders) and as part of his strategy he is keeping his cards close to his chest whilst he susses out what he might achieve. He will then reveal the very limited “reforms” that are likely to be agreed, agree them, declare victory over the EU and recommend a “stay” vote rather than a “quit” vote.

Lord Lawson has already cast doubts on the level of reform that is actually achievable – partly because I suspect that he believes the EU is unreformable and partly because he is sceptical about “young Dave’s” ability to wrestle any changes out of the EU.

He may be right but I suspect, as Mark Mardell reports, the EU has more pressing concerns – and they may have seen through what is actually happening.

For the truth is that there will be no meaningful negotiation with the EU and in fact Dave is not actually negotiating with them. “Our” Prime Minister is actually cornered into a rather difficult negotiation with UKIP and with his Euro-septic backbenchers and cabinet ministers (everyone has their “bastards”).

He knows that he cannot satisfy them – they want “out” – in European terms they are irredeemably “quitters”. So he has to negotiate them into a corner whereby they will look like nit-pickers when “renegotiated terms” are presented to the electorate come the referendum.

It therefore makes sense that he remains vague about what he wants, because as soon as he declares what he wants the septics will condemn them as too modest and attempt to ramp up the pressure for more extensive demands. This is the last thing Dave wants – given that he knows that he will only get modest reforms out of the EU.

If he pushes for too much he will be relegated (possibly alone) into a sort of EU “second division” – neither the pseudo freedom of “the Norwegian model”, nor the participating membership of the “premiership members”.

That would be a pig in a poke (I think I have that phrase the right way round).


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