A deal on Britain’s future membership of the EU was trashed out by leaders of the 28 member states of the grouping after more than 30 hours of intense talks in Brussels, with Prime Minister David Cameron claiming victory but Eurosceptics back home rubbishing it.
Despite misgivings, each member-state in the end agreed to give up some of their interests for the larger good of keeping Britain – one of the largest contributors to Brussels – inside the European Union. Many leaders later said they could not envisage a EU without Britain in it.
The deal, which Cameron claimed meets all his demands and gives Britain a ‘special status’ in the EU following months of tough negotiations, will be implemented only if the British people vote to remain in the EU in the forthcoming referendum.
Cameron said he would campaign with his “heart and soul” for Britain to remain in the EU. The opposition Labour party has already made known that its pro-EU stand. Two cross-party camps – ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ – will campaign before the referendum.
Cameron is due to hold a special cabinet meeting on Saturday and possibly announce the date of the referendum. But the day was already queered for Cameron by his justice secretary and close ally, Michael Gove, making it known that he would campaign for the ‘Leave EU’ camp.
Eurosceptics remained opposed to the deal, claiming that it did not change anything on the ground: did not ensure any less migration from within the EU, nor prevent Britain being forced to implements any less EU laws and directives, nor allow Britain to block unwanted EU laws.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign, said Cameron “will now declare victory but it is an entirely hollow one”, and disputed his claim that the deal was legally binding, saying it “can be ripped up by EU politicians and unelected EU judges”.
Cameron has lifted the obligation of ‘collective responsibility’ on his council of ministers, which means that even though he and his government favour Britain remaining in the EU, individuals ministers will be free to campaign on the opposing side.
Speaking at a lengthy press conference in Brussels after announcing details of the agreement, Cameron appeared to have launched the ‘Remain in EU’ campaign, claiming that the reforms he had secured would put the UK “in the driving seat” of one of the world’s biggest markets and create a “more flexible” EU.
“The British people must now decide whether to stay in this reformed European Union or to leave. This will be a once-in-a-generation moment to shape the destiny of our country,” Cameron said.
His party MP, David Davis, said it was time for Britain “to take control of its own destiny”, while UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said the cross-party campaign was “absolutely united in fighting to get back our democracy”.
The issue of Britain’s EU membership is important for India and to the more than 800 Indian companies who use their base in London and other parts of Britain as a gateway to Europe. A vote to leave the EU will have implications for their continued presence in Britain.