Thursday, February 04, 2016

John Rentoul on "The Deal"

As I have noted already (and will keep noting) the proposed deal between the UK government and the EU is far from being a done deal and a lot can happen in the next two weeks - or very possibly longer. David Cameron says it is more important to get the best deal for Britain than to be desperate to get a deal this month. He's dead right to say that, both because it is true and because saying anything else would undermine his negotiating position.

There are those who have a fundamental objection to the European Union and for whom nothing which David Cameron could have obtained would have satisfied them. Most of what has been written in the papers and online about the proposed EU in the past 48 hours was written by people in this camp, who have made a determined pre-emptive strike in a desperate attempt to discredit the deal before people get a chance to look at it properly.

Some of the rest is from people who would have taken any deal.

I respect the views of many people in both camps and I am not accusing them of dishonesty but those of us who are still making up our minds how to vote should take every word which has been written by convinced "outers" and convinced "inners" alike about the proposed deal with a bucket full of salt.

Many of those who would have voted to remain whatever the results of such a vote, and many of those who would have voted to leave irrespective of what David Cameron could obtain, are clearly uninterested in whether it is a good deal or how the advantages of Brexit stack up against those of remaining in a reformed EU because they have already made up their minds and a trident missile couldn't shift them.

This does not apply to everyone - there was a good contribution by James Cleverly MP in which he said that although he had decided to vote for leave he thought that if the voters take a different view and stay in the proposed measures would improve Britain's position. But there has been too much "my mind is made up, don't bother me with facts" from both sides of the debate and, frankly, those people have nothing interesting to say to those of us who are interested in the facts.

I thought that a John Rentoul article in the Independent here had some useful things to say about the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed deal. Here is an extract:

"There are holes in Cameron’s deal big enough to drive a coachload of lawyers through. The most important part of the deal is the requirement for new EU arrivals to pay taxes for four years before claiming in-work benefits. But the document issued by Donald Tusk, the EU President, says workers should gain access to benefits gradually over the four years. It doesn’t say for how long the requirement could be imposed: it would last for “a period of [X] years, extendable for two successive periods of [Y] years and [Z] years”. And it does not guarantee that the British Government can activate the requirement. It says: “The UK would be justified in triggering the mechanism in the full expectation of obtaining approval.” This approval would have to be sought from the EU Council (the leaders of the 28 member states), but also from the European Parliament. 

"Some of these square brackets will be filled in between now and the summit on 18-19 February, at which a deal looks increasingly likely. But the details are less important than the two rival stories.
 
"One is that Cameron has abandoned a lot of promises and settled for a cosmetic deal. I am not sure how true the first part is. A lot of the sweeping changes spoken of when the Prime Minister promised a referendum three years ago were grand but unspecific flourishes. It wasn’t until he set out the in-work benefits changes he wanted, seven months before the election, that the renegotiation became tangible. Those changes may be minor and full of holes but they are real – and they are what Cameron promised. 

"The other story is that Cameron has secured the objectives he set. The irreconcilable Outers may complain that he must have known from the start that he could obtain the deal that was (nearly) confirmed this week. Well, so he must. He is not stupid. Good negotiators do not demand things that they know they cannot get. But the irreconcilables make the case against themselves: if Cameron’s demands were so modest, they should have mobilised against them at the start of the negotiations, not now the deal is done."

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