21 October 2014

Painting oneself into a corner

The Prime Minister is fashioning a stick with which to beat himself:
Seen from Brussels, Cameron’s first problem is that no one knows what he wants. Writing in the Financial Times last November, he called for a policy shift on freedom of movement within the EU by making it more difficult for the poor, not in the current 28 EU states but in new countries which might join. The right to free movement should be linked to average national wealth levels in the countries joining the EU, he said.
(There are in fact no plans for the foreseeable future for any new member states.)

But it is not even clear that Cameron himself knows what he wants,  He is planning an announcement but the details (and the timing) are far from settled.  The position is further complicated by the fact that the government's policy on the EU appears increasingly to be driven by short term electoral considerations.
No 10 sources declined to go into detail about the prime minister’s planned speech. But it is understood Cameron will go further than his landmark Bloomberg speech of January 2013, when he announced plans to reform the relationship with the EU and offered a referendum in 2017, but made no mention of immigration.
The prime minister later addressed EU immigration in a Financial Times article in November 2013 but suggested restrictions on current EU citizens would be limited to curbing benefit tourism.
Pro-European Tories are alarmed because they believe the prime minister keeps changing his position under pressure from Ukip and Eurosceptics in their own party. They say he initially resisted holding an in/out EU referendum before backing down in the Bloomberg speech. He then suggested restrictions on immigration would apply only to future EU member states, but is now preparing to say they will apply to current member states.
So what will he say?  The Eurosceptics will expect him to put up serious barriers to the free movement of labour - barriers which will be unacceptable to other EU member states with whom Cameron hopes (in theory) to negotiate EU reform.  Damned if he does; damned if he doesn't.


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