February 26, 2016
There was something ever so slightly annoying about the way David Cameron presented his EU reform settlement following the Council summit on Friday. “I don’t love Brussels; I love Britain”, quipped the Prime Minister. Not the best start to a campaign aimed at saving Britain’s troubled marriage with the EU. He will need to rediscover some of that affection fast, if he is to convincingly make the case for Remain. Upon this, after all, will much of his legacy rest.
From a European perspective, the deal is alright. Not a game-changer. Not glamourous. But it will do. European leaders handed out some cherries for Mr Cameron to take back to his Conservatives as a means of settling intra-party tensions and thus, helping to ensure an In vote. It was always suggested that taming his own party would be key to winning the referendum. Critically, since the deal, Cameron’s most powerful deputies – Chancellor George Osborne, Home Secretary Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond – have all declared for Remain. This should be enough to seal it.
But now for some candor. In spite of vigorous promises and subsequent claims to the contrary, Mr Cameron has delivered neither sweeping reform of the EU nor fundamental redefinition of Britain’s relationship with it. Where there are changes, these are cosmetic; the rest confirms much of what we already knew. The exemption from ever closer union and joining the euro in particular has been smartly packaged, but in fact merely reiterates what was already understood. Opt-outs vis-a-vis EMU and Schengen were previously negotiated (in 1992 and 1985 respectively) with European leaders never honestly expecting Britain to join a future political union. If the UK has ‘special status’ in the EU today, this was obtained more than two decades ago.
And so to a word of caution: If Mr Cameron chooses to fight the referendum campaign purely on the basis of his Brussels settlement, the chances are he will lose. There is simply too little of substance to sell. Rather than build the campaign on the settlement itself, the Prime Minister would do well to quietly shift emphasis and focus instead on the bigger issues – those that will ultimately swing the debate one way or the other.
If rhetoric up to and during negotiations was designed to promote the impending agreement, this must now change. Instead, focus ought to centre on the positives of EU membership for Britain, starting with the single market but not excluding other areas. Such a gear change must occur before it is too late. However, in the week since the ‘renegotiation’, there have been few signs of it. In fact, Cameron continues to play the eurosceptic. The reasons behind this should be obvious: a sudden shift from EU-polemicism to EU-love would risk shattering Cameron’s credibility and alienating undecided voters. Rather, to win them over, he hopes to appeal to their pragmatism: a sort of ‘I don’t like the EU much either, but we’ll be better off in it’ rhetoric. The underpinning logic is that the undecided are generally sceptical about Europe, but might be swayed by the rationalist argument. Worryingly however, the In campaign demonstrates an astonishing lack of vision, imagination or any appeal to the globalist values upon which the European Project rests. Unless it captures the imagination of voters by projecting a grander vision of Britain’s role in Europe, the campaign may well struggle. If Mr. Cameron cannot make this ‘sexier’ case for Europe, then perhaps he will need some assistance.
Young Britons overwhelmingly support continued membership of the EU, with national polls showing anything from 65-85% of 16-25 year-olds favouring In. This is encouraging. But Britain’s ‘89ers’ must speak louder and with greater clarity on their vision. Of the young Brits I have spoken to, support is not for some ‘special’ (in practice secondary) status, but for deeper integration into a modernising and more streamlined EU. ‘Special status’ weakens Britain’s position in Europe, relegating her to a second-rate power – a blocker rather than an influencer. This is quite plainly not the best of both worlds, as Cameron suggests. It simply amounts to diluted influence in a world increasingly shaped by large commercial and security blocs. Rather than seek special status, Britain must seek integration into the European Union. This is necessary if she is ultimately to shape, rather than merely observe, the course of international affairs. Britain’s grandeur, gradually eroding over the decades since the First World War, can be recaptured only as a fully integrated, lead member of the European Union. This, here, is the positive – or ‘sexy’ – case for Britain in Europe. We haven’t heard it enough. So it’s time for the 89ers to speak up.
Their vision is crucial; their action necessary. At university, pub, workplace or football ground – Britain’s 89ers must be heard. Their silence will only amplify the voice of insularity, add strength to nostalgia and fuel the politics of hate and division. If Dave can’t show Europe the love, even whilst trying to win the referendum, then he will surely need Britain’s students, graduate employees and startup entrepreneurs to help him out.
By Michael Cottakis1989 Generation