British PM Cameron faces tough questions on EU deal

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Feb 08, 2016 20:21 IST
File photo of British Prime Minister David Cameron. The PM is in favour of Britain staying in the European Union. (AFP)

To be or not to be together in the EU, is the question being hotly debated in Britain, with London mayor Boris Johnson burnishing his Eurosceptic credentials on Monday with a series of tough questions to Prime Minister David Cameron.

After Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, last week offered Britain a deal to stay in the EU, rival camps have raised doomsday scenarios to present their cases, while Cameron has insisted that the deal provides a good reason for Britain to stay in the EU.

A referendum on Britain’s membership is promised before the end of 2017, but is likely to be held around June this year after the European Parliament ratifies Tusk’s deal next week. The issue is vital for India and hundreds of Indian companies who use Britain as a gateway to Europe.

The Vote Leave campaign group accused Cameron of ‘scaremongering’ on Monday for his claim that in the event of a ‘Brexit’ — Britain voting to quit EU membership — migrant camps like the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, France, would appear in south-east England.

But Johnson made the most significant intervention in a newspaper column, asking hard questions on the details mentioned in the EU deal of Cameron, such as on national sovereignty, borders and competitiveness, and sought answers within a fortnight.

Johnson has so far not made his position known, but polls suggest that he is the favourite to lead the group that wants Britain to quit the EU. There are senior ministers like him in the Cameron government who favour ‘Brexit’.

Johnson wrote: “So there is the dilemma in a nutshell: Britain in the EU good, in so far as that means helping to shape the destiny of a troubled continent in uncertain times, while trading freely with our partners. Britain in the EU bad, in so far as it is a political project whose destiny of ever-closer union we don’t accept and whose lust to regulate we can’t stop.

“In deciding how to vote, I (and I expect a few others) will want to know whether we have genuinely achieved any reform, and whether there is the prospect of anymore.”

A key issue and reason in favour of ‘Brexit’ is migration from within the EU, particularly from the east European countries, over the last decade under the ‘free movement’ facility allowed to all EU citizens, and availing British state benefits.

The concern was most visible in the rapid rise of the UK Independence Party, which made major gains in recent local and national elections with its demand that Britain sever its ties with the EU, whose membership is perceived as detrimental to Britain in many ways.

However, Cameron and others, including the Labour party, want Britain to remain in the EU not only for economic reasons (the large EU market for goods) but also due to the large number of British citizens living in other EU countries, and to be able to influence EU policies.

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