Cameron begins campaign to keep Britain in EU

Updated - November 17, 2021 02:05 am IST

Published - February 21, 2016 10:45 pm IST - London:

British PM David Cameron (right) speaking to BBC’s AndrewMarr on Sunday. On the show, he presented a fierce defence ofthe deal and its advantages for Britain.

British PM David Cameron (right) speaking to BBC’s AndrewMarr on Sunday. On the show, he presented a fierce defence ofthe deal and its advantages for Britain.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement of June 23 as the date on which the referendum to decide Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union will be held has drawn the political battle lines and lit a public debate over the future of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Cameron returned from Brussels on Saturday flush with victory over his success at negotiating a country-specific agreement with all 28 European Union heads of state that will bring in the sort of EU ‘reforms’ that will make it advantageous for Britain to remain in the EU. Mr. Cameron has pledged to lead the ‘in’ campaign in the run up to the referendum.

An indication of the difficulties in selling the agreement to Eurosceptics, even in his own party, let alone to those in other parties and the voting public, became apparent when seven senior Ministers of the Conservative Party cabinet, which met on Saturday evening after Mr. Cameron’s return from Brussels, rejected the deal and launched their campaign for Brexit, or Britain’s exit from the EU. They include Mr. Cameron’s close aide Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Ian Duncan Smith, Indian-origin minister Priti Patel, Theresa Villiers and John Whittingdale. However, the most prominent Conservative politician to break ranks with Mr. Cameron is London mayor Boris Johnson, who is seen as a potential successor to the British Prime Minister.

On the popular Andrew Marr show on BBC on Sunday, Mr. Cameron gave a fierce defence of the deal and its advantages for Britain. “I think it is better for Britain to remain in the EU, because it will safeguard this massive market we have in the EU, we will be stronger in the world, making sure our country and people are safe, and I think we will fight criminality and terrorism better,” he argued.

“We will be able to work with our partners, strengthen our numbers in a dangerous world. That is a positive choice, whereas a leap in the dark with uncertainly in the world — why take a further risk?”

His promises are unlikely to convince his critics — and there are many even within the ‘in’ camp, like Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, and Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland — who would argue that Mr. Cameron asked for little and got even less.

Mr. Cameron had demanded from his European allies that child benefits to the children of EU migrants to the U.K. be fully curtailed. What he has got is that child benefits not be curtailed but tailored to the cost of living in the countries the migrants come from.

Secondly, he asked for the U.K.’s right to stop in-work benefits for EU migrants for the first four years of their stay in the country. What he has got is the right to “limit” in-work benefits for EU migrants, but only as an “emergency brake” to be applied in the event of “exceptional" levels of migration, subject to EU approval, but for no more than seven years. He has got an explicit commitment that the new treaty will state the U.K. will not be part of an “ever closer union” with other EU member states, a fundamental principle of the EU. U.K. will be able to retain the pound and insulate itself from any crisis the euro-zone may face in the future.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of the Scottish government (now held by the Scottish National Party), is a strong advocate for staying in the EU, but for very different reasons that that of Mr. Cameron and his party, and of the right-wing United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) headed by Nigel Farage. She will lead the campaign in Scotland for staying in Europe, although she envisions a different sort of Europe from that which the Conservative Party does, a Europe that supports immigration and with strong social and employment guarantees.

“David Cameron’s negotiations did not live up to the many expectations he had created,” Ms. Sturgeon said. “He wants an EU where social and employment protections are watered down. For me these are part of the reason for being in the EU. If you go down this road, the freedom of movement, which is one of the underpinning principles of the EU, stands to be diluted. I am sure that David Cameron would be the first to complain if people from the UK who had migrated to other European states started to be discriminated against.”

In the event of Britain’s exit from the EU, the issue of a second referendum for Scotland is something that the SNP would strongly advocate as they argue that a compelling reason for people who voted that Scotland remain in the U.K. in the 2014 Scottish referendum was that Britain would stay in the EU.

With political parties split down the middle on the Brexit issue, each side will have uncomfortable bedfellows sharing space. For example, UKIP leader Nigel Farage shared a dais with George Galloway, his trenchant political opponent who is leader of the left-leaning Respect Party, at a meeting held recently of Grassroots Out, the leading platform of the Brexit camp.

Brexit supporters argue for upholding Britain’s economic and political sovereignty — the right for British Parliament to decide its own laws, business and trade arrangements, and immigration laws free from the hold of EU institutions.

British business, faced with a very uncertain economic climate in Britain and Europe, is also likely to see Brexit as, in Mr. Cameron’s words, as “a leap in the dark.” These are however still early days and in the run up to the referendum date, the fine print of the deal and its impact on Britain’s sovereignty will be thrashed out.

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