Britain's renegotiation with Europe is a recipe for fudge

Both sides increasingly agree, renegotiating Britain's relationship with Europe is futile, reports Emily Hohler.


In or out? In truth, the referendum will not settle anything

"So the battle lines are drawn," saysMatt Ridley in The Times. On one side is "Vote Leave, Take Control" (of which Ridley is vice-chair), the campaign to leave the European Union if Prime Minister David Cameron's renegotiations with the EU prove inadequate. On the other is "Britain In A Stronger Europe", chaired by former M&S boss, Lord Rose (pictured).

"Yet one argument increasingly unites both sides: the futility of the renegotiation." Our list of demands may be getting thinner, "but so are our chances of achieving any of it". Anything meaningful will require treaty change, which can't happen until long after the referendum. In the meantime we will have to make do with some questionable IOUs.

Nor is anyone even entirely sure what Britain wants, says Ian Traynor in The Guardian. Frustrated senior negotiators in Brussels have told Cameron there is no point in further talks until "he tables concrete written demands". Downing Street is reluctant to "define its position", because if the paper is leaked, Cameron's "shopping list" risks being "mocked as deficient" by the eurosceptics, while a "maximalist public position" could result in other EU governments immediately dismissing the demands as unacceptable.

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That said, we may not have "operational details", but we do have four themes that Cameron "wants fixed", says Alex Barker in the Financial Times.These range from "boosting existing EU policy initiatives, such as leaner regulation and a transatlantic trade deal, to curbs on migrant benefits, a bigger say for national parliaments and safeguards for non-euro countries". Some policies are actually highly specific, but not in their legal form, and this is a problem. "For administrative machines such as Brussels, officials liken it to being asked to conduct an orchestra without the sheet music."

How much do Cameron's negotiations really matter anyway, asks Philip Johnston in The Daily Telegraph. Will those backing the "In" campaign propose leaving Europe if Cameron comes away empty-handed? Will any "outers" switch allegiance when they see what he has achieved?

The reality is that both sides expect too much from the referendum, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. "It will not settle' anything." It pits true-believing Europeans against fervent sceptics, so "nobody makes the case for fudge. But fudge works... Fudge is how Britain ended up with the best but not the worst of the European project. And fudge is what will emerge at the end" of all this. Even a "leave" vote does not mean we would really do so. "A bargain will be brokered that preserves some British access to the European market in exchange for some duty to observe European laws."

The fact is, Britain is a "richer, more liberal country" than in 1973, when it entered the European Economic Community. So Europe must have been good for Britain, or at least not so bad as to hold it back. "There is no third possibility."

Emily Hohler

Emily has worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and was formerly Assistant Editor of MoneyWeek, which she helped launch in 2000. Prior to this, she was Deputy Features Editor of The Times and a Commissioning Editor for The Independent on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph. She has written for most of the national newspapers including The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail, She interviewed celebrities weekly for The Sunday Telegraph and wrote a regular column for The Evening Standard. As Political Editor of MoneyWeek, Emily has covered subjects from Brexit to the Gaza war.

Aside from her writing, Emily trained as Nutritional Therapist following her son's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2011 and now works as a practitioner for Nature Doc, offering one-to-one consultations and running workshops in Oxfordshire.