It was all meant to be so easy, wasn’t it? David Cameron’s strategy to keep Britain in the European Union rested on getting a deal – any deal – and selling it to the British people as a victory for us plucky Brits, batting above our weight in the counsels of Europe.
Like Harold Wilson before him, Cameron could go to the electorate with a straight face and tell them he had outfoxed those dastardly continentals and delivered the best possible terms for Britain.
We might not get everything we wanted – like actual democratic control over our own laws, trade and borders – but the alternative would be to leave the club altogether and become like the rich, happy failed states of Norway and Switzerland. Which – as we’ve been told repeatedly by the Prime Minister, the Remain campaigners, big business and the other usual suspects – is a bad thing.
He would would have got away with it too if the dastardly continentals had just played along. But Brussels refused to play ball. For them, the European project is not a game but a fanatical religion. Cameron’s watered down list of demands were rejected out of hand. After all, why offer him anything when they knew he was going to campaign for ‘Remain‘ regardless?
The draft agreement published last week is an insult to the intelligence of any reasonable person who believes power should lie with the national parliaments rather than Brussels.
Gone is the proposed four-year ban on migrant benefits. Instead the EU will decide when Britain will be able to impose restrictions. Parliament will still be unable to strike down EU legislation – unless 55 percent of national assemblies can be persuaded to rebel against laws proposed by their own government ministers.
Instead, the proposals set out by EU Council President Donald Tusk offered the Prime Minister the tiniest of fig leafs – which the tabloids and public opinion promptly ripped away.
The headlines have not been kind to Mr Cameron. The Daily Mail called it “the great delusion”. The Daily Express thought it was all “a joke”. The Sun asked Cameron “Who do EU think you are kidding?”. It’s at times like this you thank God we have a free press.
Cameron’s gambit has failed to solidify public opinion behind staying in the EU. Instead it is pushing it in the opposite direction. A number of people I know who until recently were sitting on the fence – even leaning towards voting for Remain – are now fairly sure they will vote to Leave.
The polls tell the same story. Two thirds of those asked by Sky News said the proposals were a bad deal. A YouGov poll for the times showed support for a Brexit surging ahead to 56 percent, versus 36 percent for Remain.
This is obviously good news, though it should always be stressed that any poll can be taken with a pinch of salt and we probably won’t know the real figures until after the referendum itself.
The squabbling and ineffective Leave campaigns have been remarkably lucky in their opponents. It almost seems like those who favour staying in are doing all the work for them.
Roughly two thirds of those who will bother to turn up on the day have probably decided already, and can be split fairly evenly into pro-EU and Brexit camps. The rest have yet to make up their minds. It is their votes which will decide the result of the referendum.
These people are often worried by the near-constant sense of crisis that has overwhelmed Europe in recent years – in particular mass immigration and the failure of the Euro – but are far from sure they would be safer or more prosperous outside the EU.
Some will also remember the 1975 referendum when British voters were sold a trading association – not the infant European federation envisioned by the founders of the EEC.
The swing voters have now seen exactly what kind of deal the Prime Minister is likely to bring back from Brussels. Many will feel discouraged and insulted by it. Cameron’s barefaced attempt to market his defeat as a great victory hasn’t fooled anyone.
Chris has been a member of the Conservative Party since 2010. He believes strongly in individual freedom, personal responsibility, and the power of free markets to eliminate poverty by encouraging wealth creation. Follow him on Twitter: @
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty.