I don’t wish to irritate anyone by repeating myself, but feel I must. The media’s coverage of the EU referendum is muddying the waters, obscuring the debate and misleading people. The Sunday Telegraph has actually led with an article that is based on utter nonsense and is backed up with no verifiable sources. It has to be called out because no one should be wasting their time speculating over it.
The paper’s editor for Europe, Peter Foster, asserts that the prime minister is planning a “covert climb-down” on migrant benefits for next week’s European Council, in an attempt to “to win a deal by February, with a UK referendum to follow in June”.
Let me clear this up; the Electoral Commission has recommended that ten months must elapse between the passing of the Referendum Bill and all related legislation before a referendum can take place. The government cannot ignore the Electoral Commission and so there will be no referendum in June. The earliest it could take place would be in November, and even this is highly unlikely.
Furthermore, Tim Ross, the Senior Political Correspondent for The Telegraph, has claimed that David Cameron is making a “dramatic climb down” by back tracking on the “central demand” for restricting benefits for EU migrants. This just isn’t the case, it is only the media that has puffed up welfare reform to be a “central demand” and Ross is really out on a limb claiming that it’s a “key pledge”.
I would urge to you actually read David Cameron’s letter to Tusk, rather than only digesting the media’s commentary on it. Within it there is a passage on immigration over 500 words long, but the notion of restricting migrant’s welfare takes up only 29 words of this, one sentence.
The only conclusion we can reach is that, in-fact, welfare reform is not a “key pledge” nor is a major demand from which the PM is currently backtracking. Despite the references to unnamed “advisors” and “senior government sources” (who are either fictional, or simply trying to manipulate the headlines), the assertions made in this article are not credible, and so all we have is misleading, misinforming speculation.
Why does it matter? For one thing Leave campaigners need to ensure they don’t waste their time in anticipation for a referendum in June when it is still highly likely to be in 2017. More importantly we have to understand the game we are playing if we are to win it.
Welfare reform is a distraction. If David Cameron were serious, he would have made far more ambitious and specific demands. The fact of the matter is that he is not seeking major reform of the EU and would be rebuffed in no uncertain terms if he actually tried. This is why he has set out a list of vague points of discussion for reform which can be spun, and speculated over, until the stage managed end game.
One has to admire the political skill, the PM is playing Vote Leave, Leave.EU, the media and hardcore Eurosceptics like a well-tuned fiddle. Things like migrant benefits are simply decoys; it keeps the media busy and distracted, keeps them churning out soap opera fluff about “fist on the table” arguments and “demands”. It keeps Leave campaigners discussing irrelevancies, tying themselves up in knots and burning themselves out.
The PM is skillfully managing our expectations, and it’s working like a charm with 74% of people surveyed believing that he is likely to achieve only minor reforms or none at all. This is perfect for the PM and the Remain side, for the lower expectations are, the better it appear when David Cameron announces “associate membership” or the “British model” as his great victory.
It is in-fact simply a formalisation of our second class status in the EU, as the Eurozone integrates further, we will be marginalised in an outer ring, retaining all the disadvantages of EU membership – and receiving new ones – while gaining very little.
This is nothing to do with the imaginary negotiations between Britain and the EU, but a longstanding idea dating back over a decade which was formally presented in the Spinelli Group, Berteslmann Stiftung draft treaty “Fundamental Law” of 2013, with a timetable for its implementation set out in the Five Presidents Report last June.
The EU needs to integrate further to solve the Eurozone crisis and complete the project; the creation of a unified Europe subject to a supranational government. Juncker will issue a white paper in 2017 and the implementation of a new treaty along the lines of the 2013 draft will begin. This will happen with or without Britain and is unrelated to the EU referendum or any “demands” for reform we have made.
A side-effect of the treaty will be a possible solution to the “British problem”. Cameron will piggyback on the upcoming treaty and point to it as a major reform of the EU that will directly benefit Britain, and present the “British model” or “associate membership” as an achievement of negotiations giving us a “new relationship” in a reformed EU.
This is why the media’s lamentable analysis of the subject matter is so important. Associate membership is a brilliant conjuring trick; it will appear to address the very vague suggestions for reform that the PM has put forward. It will allow the government to say they have achieved a new deal and recommend we remain within a “reformed EU”.
By the time this happens, after so long distracting itself with gossip and semi-fictional tittle tattle, the media will likely fail to analyse the “new deal” with any real scepticism. In-fact, after years of harping on about minor issues, it will appear as if Cameron went to Brussels with minor “demands” and came back with a revolutionary restructuring of the EU. Then the majority of the media will urge us to vote Remain.
To pull this off all David Cameron need to do is is to stay cool, keep expectations low, allow the media to busy itself with minor issues and let the Leave campaigns burn themselves out, confuse the issues and convince swing voters that they wouldn’t know what to do with Brexit if they got it. So far so good.
Sorry to repeat myself, though I fear I will have to do so again. And again.
Ben is the Conservatives for Liberty Web Editor and a Brexit campaigner. He advocates a counter-revolution to achieve the restoration of constitutional liberty and national independence. He blogs at The Sceptic Isle. Follow him on Twitter: @TheScepticIsle
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty