After marathon talks stretching over two days, David Cameron has returned to Britain championing his new deal with Europe as a victory, and one that makes staying within the EU a much easier choice.
The starting gun on the referendum has now been fired this morning too, with the date being set for Thursday 23rd June, just four months away.
The question now for Britain is should we stay or should we go.
The public seems split down the middle on whether we should remain a part of the EU. Polling on the issue has been somewhat erratic, with online-based polls suggesting that Leave may be in a slight lead while phone-based polls show that Remain is the clear favourite.
The truth is likely somewhere in between, with the public in favour of staying in the EU but not by a comfortable margin.
The Prime Minister will hope that the new relationship that he has agreed for the EU will encourage enough voters to stay the course.
The deal has several key factors, some relating to all EU countries and others specifically to Britain:
- A new 4-year “emergency brake” on welfare payments to migrants during high levels of migrations, which the UK can extend as far as 7 years.
- Child benefits will now be paid based on the cost-of-living in claimants’ home countries, beginning immediately for new claimants and from 2020 for existing claimants.
- A safeguard for the City of London from any potential “discrimination” from being outside the Eurozone.
- An exemption for the UK on the EU principle of “ever-closer union”, which means Britain will be able to opt-out of any further political integration.
Advocates of Britain leaving the EU have already said that the deal is weak and does very little to change what they see as a flawed institution that Britain benefits little from. It backtracks from David Cameron’s initial arguments of a total ban on child benefits being remitted and a 13-year “emergency brake” and the Leave campaign will criticise Cameron’s deal as being far from enough to make EU membership worthwhile.
This deal will be the “white paper”, if you will, on Britain’s new relationship with the EU and will form the basis of debate (similar to the Scottish independence referendum). The EU have already said that if Britain votes to leave the new deal will not be implemented, and the remaining 27 members will be able to carry on as before.
What people will be voting on is whether they see the EU as a benefit to them, and whether David Cameron’s renegotiations are going to make enough of a difference is unclear.
Britain has never felt itself to be European in the way continental countries are. A combination of cultural, historical and geographical features have seen to that. But what is clear to the majority of voters is that the EU is our largest trading partner, and that co-operation with EU countries is in our national interest. These are solid arguments for remaining in the UK that the “Stronger In” campaign will need to capitalise on.
The other side will likely agree with these points, but argue that the EU is a bureaucratic and undemocratic institution that Britain pays more than its’ fair share into and that we’d be better off dealing with EU countries as an independent country outwith the organisation.
It’s up to the voters to decide whether or not being in the EU is best for Britain, but I suspect that the public will ultimately choose to stay, although the final result may be close. The sheer weight of establishment in favour of staying in the EU – with the three major UK wide parties, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens all backing EU membership – should be enough to engineer a campaign that is convincing and positive about the benefits of staying in the EU. The Leave campaign, with UKIP as its’ main proponent, will try to play itself as the plucky insurgency against bureaucratic Brussels, but whether it can make a thorough argument in economic terms is unclear.
Britain has four months to decide whether or not the EU is good for Britain, and with Scottish, Welsh and London elections all coming up before then the run up to the referendum is sure to be a political whirlwind. Which way the wind will blow on Thursday 23rd June, though, is still to be seen.