Cameron’s Dirty Little Deal
In February 2016 David Cameron announced the outcome of his EU negotiations as a triumph which enabled the UK to have “the best of both worlds”. (Telegraph 19 February 2016). He had secured a “special status” within the EU. Britain would be permanently withdrawn from further integration and “would never be part of a “European superstate”. A vote to Remain will endorse this agreement and the government will have the mandate to implement it.
The ‘Remain’ campaign is misnamed. It should be the ‘Retreat’ campaign. A conservative position is to keep the status quo. But the Crown is proposing a “reformed EU” for people to vote for. These ‘reforms’ are reactionary, taking the country backwards in the direction of greater UK independence. As the Prime Minister said “I am not saying the EU will be perfect after this deal….. but will the British position be stronger and better? Yes it will”. (BBC News 3 February 2016)
This “stronger and better” Britain was explained in terms curbing welfare for EU workers. Cameron told the House of Commons “This deal brings back some welfare powers, it brings back some immigration powers , it brings back some bail out powers, but more than that, because it carves us forever out of ever closer union”. (Express 22 February 2016 Greg Heffer).
During the negotiations Boris Johnson praised Cameron saying he has done “a very good job of negotiating at huge speed a very difficult package of measures” (Evening Standard Joe Murphy 2 February 2016). In the Commons debate on this “special status”, Boris Johnson said the deal did not go far enough, asking Cameron to say “in exactly what way this deal returns sovereignty …to these Houses of Parliament”. (Express 22 February 2016 Greg Heffer). Not a return to UK independence but a step towards it.
The Tories reactionary EU ‘reforms’ can began in their 2010 Manifesto. They planned to return EU social and employment law to UK jurisdiction. This was part of a general attack on workers’ rights which would include new anti-union laws. In 2011 Tory supporter, Lord Beecroft, produced a report on employment law which the Tory government published in 2012.
Lord Beecroft’s report proposed the abolition of unfair dismissal. Small businesses with less than ten employees would be able to opt out of pension provisions. There would be a reduction in redundancy consultation provisions, equal pay audits and various other measures. (Independent Hannah Fearn 15 June 2016). All this comes under the general heading of ‘bureaucracy and red tape’ the catch-all slogan of neoliberalism.
It was expected these issues would be part of UK negotiations. However after Cameron won the 2015 general election the Tories realised they would need the support of the TUC and nine million Labour voters. At the 2015 Trade Union Congress (Guardian 15 September 2015 Syal, Taylor and Wintour) the GMB general secretary warned that attacking workers rights would push “those of us previously in the yes to Europe camp to the edge of fundamental change” and that support for leave could “intensify dramatically”.
The Tories parked the Beecroft agenda for the future. Cameron decided to concentrate his fire on an easier target, workers coming from the EU. Therefore the government’s negotiating agenda covered four issues, political or “ever closer union”, discrimination against migrant workers, protecting the City of London, and a reduction in business regulations.
The 1957 Treaty of Rome says the founding nations are determined “to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among peoples of Europe”. The 1983 Solemn Declaration of the EU spoke of a common destiny, a European identity and progress towards “an ever closer union among the peoples and member states of the European Community”. The Maastricht Treaty (1992) on the European Union spoke about continuing “the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe” (House of Commons Briefing Paper No 07230 16 November 2015)
At the Tory Party conference in 2013 David Cameron called for an end of an “ever closer union of peoples”. (Daily Telegraph 1 March 2016). He informed the House of Commons on 29 June 2015 that “we will put the Common Market back at the heart of our membership, getting off the treadmill to ever closer union.” In October he said that “getting Britain out of ever close union is not simply a symbol; it will be taken into account in all future jurisprudence” of the European Court of Justice. (House of Commons Briefing Paper No 07230 16 November 2015).
Roger Brooks, Managing Director of Capital Economics (City AM 4 June 2015) explains that “there is one overriding issue on which the Prime Minister cannot compromise” which is either to end the EU’s ambition for “ever closer union” or being able to “unsubscribe” from this aim. Cameron came up trumps. The EU deal says “It is recognised that the UK…..is not committed to further political integration”. This will be incorporated in future Treaty Revisions to make clear that ‘ever closer union’ do not apply to the UK. (BBC News 20 February 2016 ‘What Cameron wanted and what he got’).
In addition Cameron secured a “red-card” mechanism, which means that if fifty five per cent of national parliaments agree, they could effectively block or veto a commission proposal. This would effectively slow down change and make the European parliament even more irrelevant.
The EU founding principle of an “ever closer union of peoples” is consistent with internationalism. As socialists our criticism is not with the aim but the inability of the capitalist EU to implement it. We are in favour closer unity and greater solidarity between working people of England, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, and Spain etc. The British policy of rejecting “ever closer union” with the peoples of Europe is a reactionary policy which we should not vote for on 23 June
Migrants and welfare benefits
After Cameron’s negotiation, Jose Mourinho, Manchester United’s Portuguese manager, will find he cannot claim in-work benefits to top up his pay, nor send child benefit back to any children living in Portugal. He won’t be able to claim any benefits if Manchester United sack him. The Tories intend to prevent Jose getting a council flat in Stretford or Salford.
The Tory manifesto declared: “We will insist that EU migrants who want to claim tax credits and child benefit must live here and contribute to our country for a minimum of four years.” It also proposed a “new residency requirement for social housing, so that EU migrants cannot even be considered for a council house unless they have been living in an area for at least four years”.
The manifesto pledged to “end the ability of EU jobseekers to claim any job-seeking benefits at all”, adding that “if jobseekers have not found a job within six months, they will be required to leave”. The Tories wanted to stop EU migrant workers in the UK sending child benefit or child tax credit money home “no matter how long they have worked in the UK and no matter how much tax they have paid”.
Cameron’s deal said that for in-work benefits, member states can limit the access of newly arriving EU workers to non-contributory in-work benefits for up to four years from the start of work. On child benefits, member states now have an option to index such benefits to the conditions of the Member State where the child resides. Out-of-work benefits were already being restricted. Newly arrived EU migrants are banned from claiming jobseeker’s allowance for three months. If they have not found a job within six months they will be required to leave.
Laws that make it illegal to sleep under a bridge apply equally to homeless people and billionaires; nobody expects the latter to end up in court for sleeping rough. The Tory restrictions on social benefits will have no impact on Jose Mourinho or other rich Germans, Italians, or Greeks now resident in London. These restrictions are directed against one class of people only – working class and poor people.
Protecting the City of London
One of Cameron’s major objectives was to secure the position of the City. He wanted to make sure that the City would not lose business by being outside the Euro. He sought guarantees that further financial union will not be imposed on non-eurozone members and the UK will not have to contribute to eurozone bailouts.
Cameron wanted a recognition that the “Euro is not the only currency of the EU, to ensure countries outside the Eurozone are not materially disadvantaged”. The UK is already outside the Euro, but the City of London could suffer disadvantages as financial integration proceeds over the next few years. (BBC News 20 February 2016 ‘What Cameron wanted and what he got’).
Cameron secured some guarantees for UK and other states outside the Eurozone for not funding Euro bailouts or funds to defend the Euro in currency markets. He met resistance from the French government on financial regulation. France wanted to ensure the UK could not win any opt outs for the City. (BBC News 20 February 2016 ‘What Cameron wanted and what he got’). Britain would not have any “exceptions to the rules of the EU” – particularly in relation to regulation in the City.
It is an article of faith that neoliberals oppose “red tape” and “bureaucracy” and support more competition. Cameron wanted to reduce the “burden” of excessive regulation and extend the single market. The European Commission agreed the “The EU must increase efforts towards enhancing competitiveness, along the lines set out in the Declaration of the European Council on competitiveness”. BBC News 20 February 2016 ‘What Cameron wanted and what he got’).
Neo-liberalism has done massive damage to social fabric of Europe. It has freed big monopoly capital to make profits out of the anarchy of the market. It created conditions for the 2008 banking crisis and the subsequent stagnation and rising poverty. It is ironic that socialist opponents of neo-liberalism will vote and endorse more “competitiveness” on 23 June.
On 23 May 2016 Her Majesty’s Treasury produced an analysis on the immediate impact of leaving the EU. It was shocking reading. In the event of an exit vote the Gross Domestic Product would fall between 3.6% and 6%. This is a serious recession on any estimates. Average wages will fall by 2.8% or £780 a year and unemployment will rise by 500,000. This will increase poverty levels amongst the poorest sections of society. (Huffington Post Graeme Demianyk 23 May 2016)
This was an attempt to frighten or bully people into voting to Remain. Should workers ignore these warnings emanating from George Osborne and HM Treasury? No certainly not. It makes sense to think that Capital and the City of London are planning to retribution if a majority vote to leave. The Tory government will enjoy imposing greater austerity and blaming us for bringing it on ourselves.
So it is sensible to prepare for this danger. First we should not give in to blackmail by voting to Remain. Second the working class movement will have to take strike action to defend ourselves. It would have to be generalised political strike action in the face of a general attack on the working class. But in this case, a general strike is the only meaningful response to the threat from Brexit.
In conclusion the Tories saw negotiations as an opportunity to lever concessions from the EU, making life harder for workers and better for their friends in business and the City. It should be no surprise that the right wing of the Labour Party and the trade union bureaucracy should endorse this because they have a track record of supporting business interests.
People do not have the option of simply voting for the status quo of remaining in the current EU. We are being asked to vote for a reactionary deal, like Turkeys voting for Christmas. We are asked to vote for a ‘reformed’ EU which is against the interests of working people. This deal is a rejection of internationalism, an attack on workers’ rights, protection for the City and promotion of neoliberal competition.
It is being backed up by the threat of an economic crisis and more austerity if people vote to leave the EU. No socialist should vote for this. What we should be doing is raising the case for industrial action if there is a Brexit majority and linking this with the Greek people fighting austerity and French workers striking to defend their rights.