It has been widely trailed that David Cameron is going to outline his new European policy today, after capitulating yesterday on the Treaty of Lisbon issue. The feral members of the Tory Party are baying for blood, so what is Cameron going to give them?
The most likely position that Cameron is going to propose to negotiate a withdrawal of the UK from all EU employment and social legislation, essentially getting out of the Social Chapter that Blair agreed. Any sensible journalist should ask the following two questions if that’s what Cameron proposes:
- What – in practice – will that mean? What precisely in EU employment and social affairs legislation does the Tory Party disagree with? Does he want to do away with maternity leave? Or the rights of posted or agency workers? None of those things are especially social, and the one thing that would be – the Working Time Directive – is dead at the moment.
- Does Cameron think the other Member States would allow the UK to negotiate such an opt-out? For its the Member States that would decide that, not some mendacious Brussels bureaucrats as Cameron might try to imply. I don’t reckon he could get 26 other countries to agree to his plans.
In short, if Cameron says that employment and social affairs matters are the big things he’ll deal with, it will be largely symbolic, and will not be achievable anyway.
Cameron could of course adopt the more wide-ranging, harsher line chosen by David Davis in today’s Daily Mail, positions outlined here on Conservative Home. Quoting Davis:
recovering control over our criminal justice, asylum and immigration policies; a robust opt-out of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights; serious exemptions to the seemingly endless flood of European regulations which cost the UK economy billions of pounds each year; a recovery of our rights to negotiate on trade; exemption from European interference into trade in services and foreign direct investment rules; and an exemption from any restrictions on our foreign policy
Essentially that equates to tearing up the rule book of the EU Single Market – do Tories these days not even believe that a Single Market in Europe is a good thing? Even Thatcher agree with that by signing up to the Single European Act in the 1980s. Plus how would the UK negotiate in the WTO (the logical conclusion on Davis’s line on trade)? How could the UK even stay in the EU if UK financial institutions operated according to different rules than ones in other EU Member States.
Plus Davis would fall into the same trap as Cameron: even if the UK held a referendum stating that the UK wanted such opt-outs, could the Tories pick a fight with the EU and 26 other Member States and actually win it? I seriously doubt it.
If the Tories want to be honest and bold they should promise a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, full stop, in or out. But that prospect might be a bit scary; unrealistic, nationalist posturing is of course much more desirable.