Thursday, 4 February 2016

David Cameron's smoke and mirrors EU "renegotiation"

On Wednesday the 3rd of February 2016 there was a parliamentary debate on David Cameron's so-called "renogotiation" with the EU. One of the remarkable things about it was that 23 critical questions and interventions came from David Cameron's own MPs. Before I get to that extraordinary set of affairs I'm going to go through a few of the reasons that David Cameron's so-called "renegotiation" is an absolute load of rubbish.

Out of work benefits for migrants

One of David Cameron's main cited victories in his so-called "renegotiation" was the fact that EU migrant workers would no longer be able to come to the UK and claim out-of-work benefits.

The problem with this claimed victory is that it is nothing of the sort. Other EU nations like Spain have a requirement that EU migrants work at least six months in order to receive out-of-work benefits. They run a system like this without having sought special dispensation from the EU. If other countries can run such a system without "renegotiation" it's pretty damned clear that the idea that the EU was forcing the UK to pay out-of-work benefits to new migrants is nothing more than a convenient fiction for David Cameron.

Pretending that he's won some great victory by stopping EU migrants from immediately claiming out-of-work benefits is nothing but an illusory victory.

Economic apartheid

One of David Cameron's other demands from the EU is the setting up of a system of economic apartheid against EU migrants by denying them access to in-work benefits.

The existence of in-work benefits like Tax Credits have allowed corporations to get away with paying below-subsistence wages, safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer will cover the shortfall (that many of these Tax Credit reliant corporations are industrial scale tax-dodgers makes the situation even more infuriating). Thus employers paying pitiful poverty wages is completely normal in modern Britain.

If David Cameron gets his way, migrant workers from the EU (and their families) will end up living in below-subsistence poverty because of the poverty wages paid by so many companies in the UK. If you're vindictive enough to be fine with working people living in poverty just because of their nationality, it's worth considering that returning UK migrants will also be caught up in this economic apartheid system too. If you have the temerity to pursue your career elsewhere in Europe for a while, you can expect to be economically sanctioned by David Cameron and the Tories when you get back to the UK.

David Cameron and the Tories have presented no evidence that slashing in-work benefits for working migrants would even cut migration to the UK, and the proposal contains no impact assessment on factors like increased child poverty. All it is is a sop to the extreme-right.

An additional factor to consider is the likelihood of tit-for-tat retribution by other EU states against British migrants. If the UK consider it fair to impose a system of economic apartheid against migrants from other EU countries, then why shouldn't other EU countries introduce systems of economic apartheid against British citizens working in their countries?

Nothing about the real problems with the EU

David Cameron's so-called "renegotiation" focuses on a number of periphery issues while completely ignoring some of the things that are seriously wrong with the EU.

One way in which the EU seriously interferes with the UK economy is EU's Competition Laws that prevent member states from using not-for-profit public institutions to run infrastructure projects. If any UK government ever wanted to do as the overwhelming majority of the electorate want them to and renationalise the rail network, the UK energy infrastructure and the parts of the NHS the Tories have been selling off, then the EU would go into attack mode.

Of course David Cameron and the Tories don't give a damn about protecting the UK's right to run its own services. Such a right for a country to run its own services is entirely contrary to their ideology of transferring as much public property as possible to private interests at bargain basement prices. It suits the Tories perfectly that EU law prevents future governments from undoing the appalling ideological damage they're currently doing.

Another huge problem with the EU is the way they are pushing ahead with the secretive TTIP corporate power grab. This so-called "trade deal" will allow multinational corporations to completely bypass Britain's democratic and judicial institutions in order to sue the UK for damages in secretive unaccountable transnational tribunals. David Cameron and the conservatives are some of the most vociferous supporters of the TTIP corporate power grab in the entire EU!

The fact that David Cameron and the Tories support the TTIP corporate power grab makes an absolute mockery of David Cameron's claims that he's going to put British sovereignty "beyond doubt"

Nothing about the real problems with the UK either!

David Cameron has made "benefits to migrants from the EU" the absolute centrepiece of his so-called "renegotiation". There are of course legitimate issues relating to social security payments to migrants, but anyone who considers them to be the most pressing issue in contemporary Britain must have some catastrophically warped sense of scale. Issues that are of much more pressing importance include:
  • Tax-dodging: UK expenditure on all social security payments to EU migrants is an insignificantly tiny drop in a vast ocean compared to stuff like the enormous scale of corporate tax-dodging (that completely dwarfs the cost of the entire welfare system).
  • Housing: Another blatantly unsustainable housing bubble is being inflated by the banks in a way that suggests the only lesson the banks learned from the last crisis was that they can gamble as recklessly as they like, completely safe in the knowledge that the government will step in and bail them out with taxpayers' cash when they go bust like they did last time (moral hazard).
  • The balance of trade: As a measure of economic health the balance of trade has gone deeply out of fashion. The best explanation for this change is that for decades the UK has been running vast trade deficits (importing way more than we export), so successive governments have had plenty of incentive to prioritise other economic indicators that are not so unrelentingly negative.
David Cameron's "renegotiation" with the EU does absolutely nothing to address any of these vitally important issues. Instead it focuses on superficial issues like David Cameron's desire to present imaginary victories and impose economic apartheid on EU workers in order to appeal to the extreme-right fringe.
Making the EU worse

Several of David Cameron's proposals (like his economic apartheid scheme for migrant workers) will make the EU even worse than it already is.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the voting records of Tory MEPs. Tory MEPs have repeatedly voted against EU measures to clamp down on serious problems like multinational tax-dodging and the dangerous excesses of European banks, and now they're lobbying the EU to stop taking action against the tax havens like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands that suck so much wealth out of the EU economy.

The Tories are absolutely intent on protecting the interests of their financial backers (bankers, private health corporations, tax-dodgers, the inherited wealth aristocracy, the idle rentier class) above all other considerations, and their appalling interventions in the EU have proven this over and again. 

Mainstream media complicity
One of the most astonishing things about the "renegotiation" debate was the fact that 23 of David Cameron's own MPs made critical interventions about his so-called "renegotiation".

Just think of garish front page splashes every time Jeremy Corbyn comes under attack from some hopelessly discredited Blairite non-entity like Peter Mandelson or John McTernan (the Labour "strategist" who oversaw Labour losing 40 of their 41 seats in Scotland).  Yet 23 of David Cameron's own MPs standing up in the House of Commons to have a go at him barely even registers as news for some reason?

Just think back to the end of John Major's time as Prime Minister and all of the headlines about how the Tory party were hopelessly divided over Europe and the criticisms of his failure of leadership. Nothing has changed other than the fact that Tory divisions over Europe are even more serious now in light of the forthcoming In-Out referendum, yet the mainstream media just seem to give David Cameron a free pass on the divisions in his own party.


David Cameron's so-called "renegotiation" is an absolute shambles. Some of the stuff he is negotiating for is simply a smokescreen, other things he's negotiating for will create economic apartheid in the UK and likely cause tit-for-tat retribution against British migrant workers elsewhere in the EU.

The fiction that David Cameron is protecting British sovereignty is catastrophically undermined by the fervent Tory support for the TTIP corporate power grab. How is it even remotely possible to claim to be putting British sovereignty "beyond doubt" whilst simultaneously supporting a plan designed to completely over-write British sovereignty with legislation to elevate multinational corporations above the constraints of our parliamentary and judicial institutions?

The purpose of David Cameron's so-called "renegotiation" seems to be the realpolitik of trying to appease Tory backbenchers and the right-wing press, rather than addressing any serious 
structural problems within the EU, or within the UK economy either for that matter.

Nobody on either side of the In-Out debate should be taken in by David Cameron's pathetic posturing, but unfortunately many will be if the pro-Tory press begin trumpeting Cameron's "renegotiation" as a wonderful success, when the slightest critical analysis reveals it to be the usual Tory smoke and mirrors game.

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Austerity is a con
The "bankrupt Britain" lie
The lamentable decline in the standard of public debate
How the mainstream media frame the political debate
The Tory ideological mission
Margaret Thatcher's toxic neoliberal legacies