The UK in a Changing Europe comments on UK’s EU negotiations

David Cameron - European Council

Senior fellows commented:

  • Jonathan Portes said: “There is little doubt that a compromise will eventually be found.  But it is important to remember that no credible analyst, inside or outside government, thinks that changes to the benefit rules will have any substantial impact on migration flows.   Yesterday’s summit made clear once again that free movement of workers, and non-discrimination, are central principles for most EU leaders. Ultimately, those who want the UK to remain in the EU, including presumably the Prime Minister, are going to have to argue the case for those principles.”
  • Simon Hix said: “Cameron has made a rod for his own back with his promise to stop in-work benefits to EU migrants until they have been resident for four years.  He may now have to concede on that issue, in return for a compromise deal. But he will have a difficult task selling any compromise to his backbenchers and the British public.”
  • Matthew Goodwin, said: “It remains evident that there is strong opposition among EU leaders to Cameron’s plan to strip EU migrants of in-work benefits. This could potentially be deeply problematic for the Prime Minister and those who want to keep Britain in the EU. Consistently, British voters have identified immigration and free movement as the priority areas where they most want to see reform. While most voters would like to see more than benefit restrictions, Cameron’s failure to deliver on the welfare issue could lead to a number of undecided voters shifting over to the Leave camp – and just when the polls suggest that Leave is gaining momentum.”
  • Iain Begg, said: “Three things are now clear. The first, which will be encouraging for David Cameron, is there is a collective will to find solutions. The second is that, whatever the merits of the case for a four year qualifying period before migrants become entitled to in-work benefits as a means of deterring EU them, there are too many veto-wielding opponents for this to be viable. Third, it follows that a different solution will now have to be found if the ambition of reducing net migration to tens of thousands is to be realised. Given the high salience of the migration issue, a rabbit of some sort is going to have to be pulled out of the hat if Cameron’s renegotiation strategy is to succeed. He will be hoping that his team has a creative Christmas.”
  • John Curtice, said: “Mr Cameron has evidently not only secured the attention of his fellow EU leaders but also a commitment to try and find a ‘solution’. His evident difficulty is that on the issue that most concerns voters and many in his party – reducing access to welfare benefits as a way of assuaging concerns about immigration – his ‘pathway’ is seemingly littered with obstacles. His task now to persuade both his party and the voters to focus on the merits of what he is managing to achieve rather than on the ‘compromises’ it looks as though he will eventually have to accept.”
  • Michael Keating, said: “There is no ‘solution’ to the difference between David Cameron and the other 27 members over free movement of workers. This is a basic point of principle. There may be room for a compromise if Mr Cameron detaches the issue of welfare entitlement from that of free movement of labour but this will be difficult as that linkage is almost the only thing that he still has that might sway some of the Eurosceptics in his own party to support staying in. If he chooses to resolve the issue by cutting in-work benefits for British and EU citizens alike, he can do that anyway and will not be able to claim that as a victory for his re-negotiation.”
  • Director of The UK in a Changing Europe, Professor Anand Menon, said: “For all the optimistic talk, and obvious desire to help the Prime Minister amongst his European Council colleagues, there is an awful lot of work to be done on the substance of any deal that would pass muster within the EU and convince waverers in the UK to vote for continued membership.”

Disclaimer:
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

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