As the road to referendum shortens, battle lines are drawn over the EU

Craig Harrison writes for us about the EU referendum and David Cameron’s appearance at the CBI

The annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry, held recently in London, provided an illustrative snapshot of the wider political debate on the UK’s membership of the EU.

David Cameron reiterated his desire to move away from the ‘ever closure union’ concept, downplaying any notion that the UK couldn’t survive outside of the institution. In what is expected to be a key message of his reform proposals – to be fully detailed soon – he added bluntly: “the status quo isn’t good enough for Britain”.

In this latter point, he may find company among some business leaders. As the CBI noted in its response to Mr Cameron’s speech, the majority of the representative body’s 190,000 members want to remain within a reformed EU – which, in its present form, is “far from perfect”, lacking sufficient focus on growth, jobs and trade.

This only reiterates what the CBI’s Northern Ireland branch outlined in a manifesto for change in September – calling on Stormont leaders to speak with one voice for NI to remain within a reformed European Union.

On the Hill, both shades of green have been at pains over the past few months to point out the negative impact a Brexit would have. To this end, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell argued that “An exit would prove disastrous for Ireland, North and South, in terms of trade [and] the economy”. In similarly emotive language, Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson also decried the economic consequences of a UK withdrawal.

When Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny took to the podium at the CBI conference, he too focused on economic implications, highlighting that “All- island economic cooperation is so much easier between two members of the European Union”.

While the position of these different groups shouldn’t be lumped together as one in the same, they can certainly be contrasted with that of the Vote, Leave – Take Control lobby.

The group, forged from a cross-party alliance of Eurosceptic MPs and Peers, infiltrated the CBI conference to heckle the Prime Minister’s speech, holding up placards reading “CBI = Voice of Brussels”.

The group believes that the UK has lost control of vital policies through its membership of the EU, with the supremacy of EU law one of the most significant drawbacks of an institution that also costs too much. The message of the Vote, Leave campaign – as stated by campaign director Dominic Cummings – is straightforward: “The public wants the end of the supremacy of EU law and to take back control of our economy, our borders, and our democracy. The only way to do this is to vote leave”.

So as we get closer to the 2017 deadline for a referendum on UK membership of the EU, the debate is heating up. Key actors are setting out their positions, and battle line are being drawn over what would be best for the UK.

Ultimately, this democratic debate should be welcomed, and the UK electorate should be grateful for the opportunity to absorb the different policy positions on offer, so as to be fully informed when deciding their own. What remains to be seen – in the game of politics, so often about who can shout the loudest – is whose stance will win out.

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  • terence patrick hewett

    The cat is out of the bag. Slippery Dave will have to come out with something more substantial than:

    * protection of the single market for Britain and other non-euro countries

    * Boosting competitiveness by setting a target for the reduction of the “burden” of red tape

    * Exempting Britain from “ever-closer union” and bolstering national parliaments

    * Restricting EU migrants’ access to in-work benefits such as tax credits

    If that is all he has, he will be filleted.

  • 23×7

    The letter may as well have been written in crayon. It is a complete diversionary tactic. The euro debate is about immigration pure and simple and nothing other than full control of our borders will placate the outers. Add tax credits and NHS funding and we can see the frat boys have started to run out of luck.

  • notimetoshine

    Cameron may well fail. He is demanding a regression in the European project in some of his demands but they come at a time when Europe has to come closer politically to deal with the structural difficulties the euro project has presented. Frankly the future of the euro project is more important to the French and the Germans than placating the British.

  • 23×7

    His own back benchers were openly hostile to him today.

  • 23×7

    Here’s how this will go. Dave will get a few concessions and, after gauging that he’s got most of his MPs with him, he’ll recommend an In vote. The tories are first and foremost the party of big business and the very wealthy who will be harmed by a EU exit. The media will mostly support an In vote as well. Expect a few scary jobs announcements as we get closer to the vote just to make sure and push the In vote over the line.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Confederation of BRITISH industry … the clue’s in the name.

    Caterpillar a group that said it wouldn’t care about a Brexit is shedding jobs here.

    Both the pro-EU club and the “Leavers” have to tackle the issue of declining manufacturing … and leaving the EU is not an instant fix to that.

  • Kevin Breslin

    And Labour is pro-EU mostly, and the Liberal Democrats, as is Plaid Cymru, the Scottish nationalists and the Greens …

    The EU is right-wing at the moment, in case anyone missed it.

    When EU national governments are Right Wing, the Council of Ministers becomes Right Wing and the Commission is Right Wing as well. Also the Right Wing leaning people will vote for Right Wing MEPs.

    Luke Ming Flanagan called it right “The EU is a Eurosceptic organisation” but then again, the European people want it to be.

    A call for reform might actually get the countries back to working together.

    So we basically have Eurosceptics controlling the EU complaining about other Eurosceptics, when they are mandated to power within the EU on the concerns of the EU-European people to make a change in the EU.

    What does Cameron want?

    Migration/Claimants … UK can’t have its cake and eat, the UK people want freedom of movement but only for them … UK “welfare tourists” in Republic of Ireland and Spain can’t have special treatment while the UK is allowed to discriminate against others. Any attack on migration will have to face reciprocation.

    It sounds like the UK wants to impose a national stereotype provision loaded against Romanians and Bulgarians who make up a very small minority of the UK welfare claimants among non-Irish EU migrants.
    The plurality of these claimants are Germans, French, Scandinavians and Poles. Romanians are more common in Spain, Italy and France and Eastern Europe face less discrimination there, Bulgarians prefer Greece, Spain and Germany to the UK.

    The UK has control over non-EU migration, and not much has been done to control that. There’s no campaign to stop Commonwealth agreements on migration.

    Closer Union/Euro protections – These seem semantically, the UK is protected from the Euro by not being in it, if it wants to steer the Single Market it needs . There are 27 other proud European nations who don’t want to surrender sovereignty to a superstate, so freeing UK from co-operating with these 27 nations will mean those 27 nations will co-operate less with the UK.

    Competitiveness – This is homegrown, the UK has no handcuffs stopping it from competing with Germany as they have common legislative restraint, indeed Germany has more EU regulation due to the Fiscal Compact.

  • Reader

    His own back benchers have one vote each in the referendum, just like the rest of us.
    All Dave has to do is persuade a few percent of the electorate that things will get a bit better instead of a bit worse. That will swing the vote as much as necessary.
    Tactically, I suppose it would help if the EU think the vote is going to be tight during the negotiations.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’d love to know what solutions the Leave crowd have to immigration, I mean other than complaining about it of course. There’s no magic forcefield around non-EU Serbia and Albania, Switzerland has bigger migrants per capita and per square metre than the UK.

    UKIP and the Leavers are living in a fantasy land … The Australian list system will fail, expelling EU citizens who made the effort to come to the UK will fail, undocumented migration is not going to be effected it by either as breaking UK law is just as easy as breaking EU law. We have no idea how they will enforce such law and to be honest the population can say thanks but no thanks we don’t want Nazis or a Waffen SS – People’s Army policing the place by attacking people with prejudice.

    In terms of the skills the list mention UKIP are planning to ignore the advice of industry and university when determining what is a skill, in terms of getting left behind into work their solution is xenophobia is a job. They would deport my Bulgarian physics lecturer and then ask how physics can be taught by complaining and obsessing about open door migration all the time?

    How can the likes of UKIP can be trusted to control a border when they can’t control themselves? They don’t have the sanity or the discipline to tackle UK internal problems objectively. The inventor of the transistor was racist but at least he wasn’t useless, what’s the point of being both racist and useless?

    They have no real solutions to migration, they’ll make the UK hostile to skilled migrants wanting to come in and easy for known criminals because they hate Europe and the European Arrest warrant so much that a white Dutchman or attractive Dutch woman criminal who speaks coherent English but has murdered someone could literally charm his or her way into the UK by saying his or her government has set him or her up.

  • Kevin Breslin

    You know what, if No wins the referendum David will be prime minister and will be tasked with saving the UK from the bad effects of a Brexit. Even a Brexit paper that was awarded the best policy paper on the topic of leaving the EU acknowledged leaving the EU and doing nothing (I.e. Sitting on your ass and complaining about migrants) would spark a long term economic recession followed by low growth.

    This isn’t an objective paper, it is biased to leaving the EU and even it suggests the UKIP policy of demagoging into the wind would damage the UK economy.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Will you do my football pools Kevin.