Britain is trapped in a political stalemate over Brexit. We...
Negotiations about Britain’s future in or out of the EU heated up this week. EU leaders want to find a mutually acceptable settlement so that they can move on to grapple with the much bigger issue for them of the refugees flooding into Europe.
Talks between David Cameron and the Presidents of the EU Parliament, Council and Commission, supported by a small group of officials, have focused on Cameron’s four key targets and produced responses for MPs and all of us to consider.
Stemming the flow of EU migrants into the UK attracted by our benefit system is probably the most challenging of the four targets because freedom of movement within the EU is one of its core principles. Nevertheless, the Commission is willing to change EU legislation to create an ‘emergency brake’ to stop exceptional inflows of workers from other member states. Hitherto this was considered unthinkable in Brussels so though the details have still to be worked out, this is a significant concession. Another is that child benefits for the children of these workers not resident here should be paid at the lesser rate set in their home country and not the UK’s rate.
The sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament is another crucial issue and on this, too, some concessions are on the table. Britain’s rejection of ‘closer union’ is recognised as is the importance of subsidiarity. It is proposed that a majority of member state parliaments might block EU legislation on the grounds of subsidiarity unless their concerns can be accommodated.
On the economic front there is recognition that the EU is a multi-currency union and the interests of non-euro nations must be respected whilst they should not be able to veto decisions that only affect the euro-nations. Non-members would have no responsibility to bail out euro-member states with financial problems like Greece last year. Fourthly, Britain’s demand that the EU becomes more competitive is accepted and business burdening red tape is to be cut.
There is still much detailed flesh to be put on the bones of these negotiations but David Cameron clearly thinks they are moving in the right direction and there is a wish among the other member states to keep Britain in the Union. The summit meeting of the 28 leaders on 18thFebruary will test how committed they are by accepting these changes. Meanwhile at home, the Conservative Eurosceptics are clearly not satisfied with the deal on the table but the other parties that don’t support ‘Brexit’ would probably give Cameron a majority in the Commons for remaining in the EU. However, it is the public who will decide in a referendum, possibly as soon as June.
We will be asked to make the biggest political decision for a generation. If we vote to leave the EU, Scotland will demand another referendum and probably vote to leave the UK. The polls show how volatile public opinion is. Those last week showed a 42% to 38% for quitting. The previous week they showed the opposite. Given the immense significance of the referendum there is an obvious need for prayer in the spirit of St Paul’s first letter to Timothy to pray “for all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”.