Saturday 24 March 2018

Cameron's extraordinary gamble could backfire

Plan to silence eurosceptics with vote now on knife-edge as Brexit begins to look like a possibility, writes Blair Horan

David Cameron. Photo: PA
David Cameron. Photo: PA

Blair Horan

The polls indicate that the UK referendum is on a knife-edge and Brexit is now a real possibility. Prime Minister, David Cameron took an extraordinary gamble on Britain's future in the EU in January 2013 when he promised to negotiate a fundamental reform of the EU, which he would then put to an In/Out referendum. It was designed to silence his eurosceptic backbenchers and outmanoeuvre UKIP, but it could well now backfire on him.

His renegotiation did secure significant concessions, more than many expected, with an opt-out from 'ever closer union', protections for sterling and changes to in-work benefits to curtail access for other EU workers. However, fundamental reform of the EU, it is not, because that was never achievable by one member state. How did it all come to this? Both the Labour and Conservative parties stood apart from European integration in the post war years because the British preference was for a European free trade area, with limited sharing of sovereignty.

The structure of the EEC, agreed in 1955, was for a Customs Union with some harmonisation of social and economic policies which involved a much deeper level of political integration than a free trade area. In the late 1980s, Margaret Thatcher turned against the Community as it moved towards economic and monetary union and adopted the Social Chapter on workers' rights. Since then the Conservative party has turned increasingly eurosceptic.

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