The cut and thrust of politics over Britain’s membership of the European Union reached a new high on Tuesday with the publication of a new draft deal that meets some demands of the “In” camp but refuses to satisfy the “Out” campers.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum by the end of 2017, but there is much speculation that if he were able to demonstrate that he has secured concessions from Brussels, it may be held this year, most likely in June.
There are strong opinions on both sides, on whether Britain should leave the grouping or stay in. The rival camps have been trotting figures and arguments to stay in or leave the EU. As more talks are due, several members of the government have said they want Britain to opt out.
On Tuesday, European Council president Donald Tusk published a draft deal that includes the key demand of hitting an “emergency brake” on state benefits that migrants in Britain from the EU can access. Both camps interpreted the draft in their favour.
There is much concern here over the large number of migrants from EU countries – particularly east European – moving to Britain over the last decade under the “free movement” facility allowed to all EU citizens, and availing 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.
The European Commission said EU leaders will discuss the draft deal for the first time on Friday with the aim of getting an agreement at the February summit. According to the draft, Cameron’s proposed four-year ban on in-work benefits for EU migrant workers could come into force immediately after Britain votes to remain in the EU in the referendum.
Cameron also wants a “red card” system by which parliaments of EU member-states could come together and veto EU laws that are seen as detrimental. There are proposals in the draft that toughens the existing but less used “red card” system, but critics dismissed them.
As Cameron claimed some success after months of negotiating with EU leaders, the Vote Leave camp’s chief executive Matthew Elliott dismissed the proposals, saying: “These gimmicks have been ignored by the EU before and will be ignored again as they will not be in the EU treaty.”
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: “The idea we are being sold that a joint ‘red card’ is some sort of victory is frankly ludicrous.”
The Britain Stronger in Europe camp said the “red card” proposal and the plans to curb benefits “or equivalent concessions” would “represent a significant victory for the prime minister and underline that Britain is stronger in Europe”.