Foreword by the Prime Minister
We have secured a new settlement to give the United Kingdom special status in the European Union. As this White Paper sets out, we will be permanently out of ever closer union, ensuring we can never be part of a European super-state. There will be tough new restrictions on access to our welfare system for EU migrants, so that people who come to our country can no longer take out before putting something in. And we have also secured vital protections for our economy, with a full say over the rules of the free trade single market, while remaining outside the Eurozone.
Whether they are legally binding is something that has been disputed, and will no doubt be much discussed. At some point they are supposed to be embodied in treaty form. Clearly after this point there is not much doubt that they would be legally binding. The European Court of Justice makes its decisions in relation to the agreed treaties. However, before they are embodied in a treaty, there are some possible problems.
The treaty changes involved need to be ratified by the national parliaments in all the EU countries, and could be challenged in national courts. Some of the proposals, such as those on benefits could be vetoed by the ECJ, just not enacted in detail in the way we envisaged, or voted down by the European Parliament. Although it is unlikely, it is even theoretically possible that the European Council could vote against the Commission's proposal. The problem with this is that we would already have voted to remain in the EU.
The point about 'strength' is somewhat vacuous, and 'playing a leading role' often amounts to little more than our politicians strutting around Europe and attending nice banquets. What was our 'leading role' in dealing with the floods of migrants coming to Europe? The assertion that we get lower prices by being in the EU is absurd. Just compare prices for the same item in the UK with those in the US, and indeed some other European countries. The CAP has brought higher food prices, surely, not lower ones.
The national security point is very odd: the document makes no attempt to explain why David Cameron thinks NATO has failed. It is often asserted (though not in the document) that the success of the EU is proved by the fact that there hasn't been a war in Europe for 70 years, but no one explains which enemy the EU is protecting us from. Which European country would attack us if there were no EU?
The document goes on the discuss, somewhat repetitively, the four main aspects of the agreement: economic governance; competitiveness; sovereignty; and welfare and free movement. The main point about this discussion is that until we see the detail of the implementation we shall not know to what extent the principles of the Government's claimed settlement have been achieved in practice.
That gives plenty of time for countries that have reservations about the deal to find ways of modifying it.
Registering at the UN simply means that it is recognised for the purposes of UN organisations and activities. That says nothing about court and parliamentary challenges around Europe, and modification of the stated goals as the proposals come to be put into practice. For example it is claimed:
the regulatory burden on businesses, particularly small businesses, will be reduced with specific targets established in key sectors in line with the approach adopted in the UK
We have secured new powers to tackle the abuse of free movement and reduce the unnatural draw of our benefits system, to meet our aim of reducing immigration, by creating fairer rules, while protecting our open economy.
These are rather vague objectives that may not amount to anything very much, or at least not as much as we expect, when the dust settles. The document over-sells what the Government has achieved and the consequent benefits of being in the EU. For example, on Russian aggression in Ukraine it says:
Another way of looking at that is that the EU has imposed weak sanctions on Russia that have made litte difference to Russia's behaviour in Ukraine.
Richard Kimber, 3rd March 2016