The best of both worlds: the United Kingdom's special status in a reformed European Union

This document is the Goverment's justification of the settlement reached with the EU.

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.

Many people will be under the impression that we have always had a 'full say' over the rules of the free trade single market. The problem has been that the agreed rules are not always the rules that we would want, and that other countries - unlike Britain - have not always followed these rules. One problem with the settlement is that it is somewhat limited - it does nothing about:
The reforms we have secured in this negotiation have been agreed by all 28 EU leaders. They are legally binding and cannot be unpicked without our agreement and that of every other EU country. All 28 Member States were also clear that the Treaties would be changed to incorporate the protections for the UK as an economy outside the Eurozone; and our permanent exclusion from ever closer union.

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.

Now we have this new agreement, I believe the answers lie inside a reformed European Union. I believe we will be stronger remaining in a reformed Europe than we would be out on our own because we can play a leading role in one of the world's largest organisations from within, helping to make the big decisions on trade and security that determine our future. I believe we will be safer remaining in a reformed Europe because we can work with our European partners to fight cross border crime and terrorism, giving us strength in numbers in an increasingly dangerous world. And I believe we will be better off remaining in a reformed Europe because British businesses will have full access to the free trade single market of 500 million people, bringing jobs, investment and lower prices.

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.

Leaving Europe would threaten our economic and our national security. Those who want us to leave cannot say if British businesses would be able to access Europe's free trade single market, or if working people’s jobs are safe or how much prices would rise. All they are offering is risk at a time of uncertainty – a leap in the dark. I do not believe that would be right for Britain.

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.

1.7 All EU Member States have signed up to these principles in a decision under international law, giving us far greater certainty than we have ever had in the past that the UK’s rights as a country that does not use the euro will be respected. These principles will be incorporated into the Treaties when they are next revised.

That gives plenty of time for countries that have reservations about the deal to find ways of modifying it.

1.17 The central element of the agreement is an International Law Decision agreed by the Heads of State or Government of the Member States of the EU. This is a binding international treaty.
1.18 This Decision is binding in international law on all EU countries and will take effect immediately if the British people vote to remain in the EU. It will be registered at the United Nations, as the Danish Decision was in 1992.

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:

The UK and its allies ensured the EU imposed strong collective sanctions on Russia, which are having a significant economic impact on Russia

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


Comments on the Government's policy paper "The best of both worlds: the United Kingdom's special status in a reformed European Union"
Political Science Resources
© Richard Kimber
Last Modified: 05 Mar 16

This page contains comments that are relevant to the forthcoming United Kingdom in - out referendum on EU membership following the conclusion of negotiations on reforming the European Union or changing Britain's terms of EU membership to be held in the UK some time before the end of 2017.