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Cameron and Brussels: progress or hot air?

Mr Cameron’s latest round of diplomacy in Brussels has confirmed once again that nothing is straight-forward in the city of compromise. Cameron has been offered a hybrid version of the four-year-ban on in-work benefits for EU migrants.

Instead, an ‘emergency brake’ deal has been offered, in which the ‘four-year-ban’ could be applied, but only if the member state could prove its public services were under strain and had received the approval of the majority of other EU members. Nonetheless, the exact details of this deal are, as of yet, unspecified. Mr Cameron has said that this ‘watered-down’ deal is ‘not good enough’.

The fundamental point that must be remembered when concerning Cameron’s shuttle diplomacy on the continent is why he’s doing it: with an in/out referendum coming up within the next two years, his own party torn by Eurosceptic backbenchers and a public that, at present (according to polls) is decidedly polarised on the issue of Europe, it’s not surprising that Cameron wants a real Agincourt-moment in Brussels to shift the balance towards staying in.

Cameron is a decidedly liberal-conservative; listen to enough of his speeches and sound bites, it’s clear that he wants to stay in a ‘reformed EU’. This in itself creates problems, as it allows Tusk and Junker to stall for time on curtailing to British demands, hoping that eventually we’ll ‘come to our senses’.

In terms of the deal itself, nothing can really be said without details. Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, stated: “the devil will be in the detail – the question is who will have control over the brake, under what conditions can it be activated, and how quickly could it come in to force?”

The premise behind Mr Cameron’s idea of a brake has nothing wrong with it, in fact, in terms of maximising the benefits of migration – it’s great. However, this deal as a whole, whether or not Cameron receives his demands, is pointless and ignores the real issues Britain and the EU face as a whole, namely the Refugee Crisis.

Cameron has said that securing this reform would reduce high levels of immigration to the UK. In reality, the effect would be minimal. Of the £29.9 billion spent on child and working tax credits, 0.3% of child benefits are awarded to migrants and 0.09% of child tax credit awards.

In total, the DWP has said that EU migrants cost the UK taxpayer £530 million for in-work benefits, 1.6% of the total tax credit bill. It is true that a large number of EU migrants (according to the government) receive out-of-work benefits, but not in-work-benefits. Hence, if benefit tourism is what Cameron wants to prevent, what he’s fighting so desperately for in Brussels is peanuts.

His entire negotiation in Brussels is clearly smoke-and-mirrors in order to appease the Eurosceptics in his party. Sadly, few of them are convinced. Arron Banks, co-founder of Leave.EU, has said “we know the Prime Minister understands how inadequate this new proposal is…watching him try to sell this latest wheeze as a triumph is like watching him debate against himself in front of a mirror.”

Ultimately, the UK does have a role to play in Europe. The UK’s net contribution to the European Commission is £8.5 billion a year, exceeded only by Germany.

We export £230 billion worth of goods and services to other member states while importing £289 billion from them. Our service sector and universities are the most efficient in the single market and 125,300 EU students benefit and rely on UK education.

A Brexit would set a precedent for other Eurosceptic nations and would lead to a total collapse of the EU. We hold huge leverage but our historically difficult relationship has taught EU ministers to be patient with us, because we need them just as much as they need us.

Instead of dogmatically focusing on migration, Cameron should be hitting EU ministers where it hurts most: money. He’d find Junker and Tusk would quickly change their tune. Let us hope that Mr Cameron is saving the big guns for when the referendum is upon us.

 

Tobias Burke

Image: Flickr – DFID

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