In early 2016, David Cameron made what seemed like a whistle-stop tour of Brussels to put his demands on the table for the UKs continuing membership. Many trips later, and with the future of the UK’s economic and political well-being at stake, he announced the deals to the country. If these deals were what he wanted, and attractive enough for the country, why then did we leave the EU? Would Brexit have happened thus putting the UK in such an uncertain economic position if he really had struck a better deal? What were the British people concerned about?
What the people of Britain wanted
A single and dominant issue for the British people was the government’s stance on immigration. It may be that the British media stoked the fire with this issue at the expense of others, however, with an increasing population, squeezed wages and strained public services, this particular agenda was at the forefront of the debate. Alongside this were the running media commentaries about the estimated €350 sent to the EU from the UK. In relation to what we pay in, do we get out what we deserve, and did David Cameron return from Brussels with a fairer proportion or a better deal? Although it is estimated that a large proportion of this figure finds its way back to these shores, how much of this was a factor in the vote? In any case, the average voter looks at their immediate circumstances - their wages, pubic services and more importantly, the future for their children. These were the burning issues. For those who in wider a thought process, the very functioning of the EU itself, and its fitness for purpose were issues more pertinent, and these included such matters as trade, EU legislation and business regulation affecting competitiveness. Also, at stake were the forty year trade relationships in a free trade area – the customs union. Tied to this was the uncertainty of dismantling these relationships and beginning fresh ones in the presence of trade barriers which in turn could affect both inward and outward investment decisions. So what did David Cameron actually get on his whistle-stop tour?
What David Cameron negotiated
David Cameron proposed that the UK be exempt from further political integration into the workings of the EU and greater controls over EU law. Simply put, the UK should be able to block new EU laws and propose its own when it suited. When talks ended, the agreement was that the UK will be recognised as a member country not willing to participate further into the political EU agenda at the treaty revision. Further, the UK would be able to block any commission proposal. This, however, was sceptically received, and the assurance of this new power not confidently received.
In the context of migration, David Cameron asked for the power to stop any migrant from claiming child benefit or tax credit unless they have been living in the UK for four years or more and contributed into the system. The same applied to council housing. He also asked for the power to stop migrants sending benefits back to their country of origin for those whose children live abroad. However, the final deal stipulated that the four year rule apply but to recognise the value of this labour and hence release its grip on such a tough stance on the EU worker – proposal which David Cameron was forced to compromise on.
On the functioning of the euro, David Cameron wished for the EU to recognise that the euro was not the only currency in Europe and the bailouts for poor performing countries would end. This was granted but with resistance from the French parliament who did not wish the UK to be exempt. David Cameron also asked for the reduction of excessive burden in terms of regulation in the single market so as to facilitate trade. These demands were met with little opposition.
Was this enough?
The government spent several months deciding on the exact terms and conditions of the reforms prior the meetings in Brussels, but was this really long enough? Could David Cameron have spent a much longer period not only negotiating his demands but ensuring that there would be no grey areas for the UK, particularly with respect to future EU legislation and the right for the UK to block proposals? Could these deals have been more rigorous in terms of what the British people really wanted and hence, and put forward to them in a much stronger fashion? Would we have a Brexit if things had been done differently?
Brexit has created uncertainty with higher import prices leading to inflation which threatens the UK's growth prospects; a significant currency depreciation which although has lead to higher exports and a narrowing of the trade balance, revised estimates for growth for 2018 has shifted downwards. With the euro zone area performing better and the euro’s appreciation against sterling having gathered pace in recent months, the effects of Brexit is now taking shape. It is vital that the 44 per cent of trade done with the euro area area is not lost through trade tariffs and poorly negotiated deals – hurried under compromise in a similar way that the ‘better deals for the UK’ was struck by the UK’s former Prime Minister.
Dr. Victor Chukwuemeka
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