A shifting of deckchairs in Brussels

David Cameron's deal with the EU has been lambasted as a charade, reports Emily Hohler. But the Outers are far from getting their act together.


A great charade, but enough to secure the In campaign

"This is pitiful stuff," says Allison Pearson in The Daily Telegraph. Prime Minister David Cameron has made a big show of "hammering out a deal" with the EU. But this week's "new settlement for the UK", published by European Council President and Polish PM Donald Tusk (pictured with Cameron), is "less a mallet than a teaspoon being lightly tapped on the lid of a soft-boiled egg".

Having dressed up migrant benefits as the hot-button issue, Cameron won an "emergency brake" on benefits paid to EU nationals living in the UK. The 17-page draft agreement also seeks to limit the EU's creeping federalism, confirming that Britain will never join the euro and is not committed to "ever closer" political union. For the City, the UK will retain powers over financial regulation and will be exempt from any future EU bailouts.

"Europhobes for whom any agreement would never be good enough" have denounced the deal, says the Financial Times. But as Harold Wilson discovered in 1975, securing a fundamental change in the terms of UK membership is extremely difficult. We already have several opt-outs, including from the euro, Schengen, and justice and home affairs issues. Given the limited scope for new "carve-outs", the deal looks reasonable.

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Oh please, says Max Hastings in the Daily Mail. "Most of what Cameron claims to have secured will remain vague aspiration, a country mile from implementation." For instance, the brake on EU migrants was supposed to stop them getting benefits until they have lived here for four years. Instead, the brake will apply at once, but then be gradually loosened.

By allowing migrants gradual access to the benefit system the longer they stay in the UK, the reforms may actually boost net immigration, says Richard Ford in The Times, by encouraging migrants to stay longer. Furthermore, the European Parliament must agree to the brake, so it effectively has a veto. Then there's the question of a veto over EU legislation. There will be a "red card" against unwanted legislation from Brussels but only if 15 of 28 parliaments agree. A hoped-for veto for non-eurozone states over eurozone legislation has also been watered down.

The upshot? "A shiftingof deckchairs in Brussels," says Hastings. Yet can the Out campaign capitalise on this flimsy agreement? The two Leave campaigns are "fighting each other more vigorously than they are fighting membership of the EU", says Danny Finkelstein in The Times. With one group representing "free-market internationalism" and the other an anti-immigration, nationalist perspective, swing voters have yet to hear the Outers' vision for what kind of country we will be post-Brexit.

The ineptitude of the Out campaign may already have decided this referendum, says Dan Hodges on Telegraph.co.uk. Witness how, for "all the wailing and gnashing of teeth" about the deal from ministers, no heavyweights have resigned from the Cabinet to push the No case, even though they're perfectly entitled to do so.

"They'd rather be ministers than lash themselves to an Out campaign that they and everyone else can see is going to hell in a handcart." Cameron's deal may be "a great charade". No matter. "Thanks to the incompetence and timidity of the Eurosceptics, [it] will be enough."

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.