The Government’s dream of holding an EU referendum in 2017 has come just a little bit closer to reality now that Conservative MPs have spoken out against Adam Afriyie MP’s efforts to legislate for a referendum in 2014 – a move that also increases the odds that both Labour and the Lib Dems will have to follow suit in the run-up to the 2015 election. But if this week’s 30 point plan for EU Reform – written by a group of British business leaders – gives any indication of the path the Conservatives ‘renegotiation’ efforts will take in the intervening years, it might be that they are in for a hard slog.
That’s in part because, as shown by the positive response it received in the UK, the report was written for a domestic audience. If the Government does use this as a blueprint for renegotiation, it may well find quickly that complaints about health and safety and data protection push too hard against the EU’s clear current direction of travel. Perhaps worryingly for the Prime Minister, it’s widely acknowledged that the UK’s understanding of Europe could be improved – something reflected by the news in September that since 2010 not a single British civil servant has successfully applied for a full-time job in Brussels. Cameron might find that in the long-term, rectifying this may prove a better strategy for renegotiation.
Immigration and the Coalition Red Lines for 2015
What’s most interesting about the Government’s Immigration Bill, which will see landlords check that tenants have the right to reside in the UK and restrict migrants’ access to medical treatment, is not that the Conservatives want to crack down on immigration in advance of the election, but what it tells us about the prospects for coalition negotiations should there be a hung parliament in 2015. So while Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has already claimed that he forced Home Secretary Theresa May to water down the Bill, what’s spoken about in more hushed tones is that all parties are looking at their 2015 Manifestos with coalition in mind – deciding where their red lines will be and what to give ground on.
This comes at the same time the Government has gone out of its way to make it easier for Chinese citizens to get visas for the UK. While the move will be popular with businesses, it could also raise questions in the medium term over the Conservative’s competency, as the party is simultaneously arguing for a crackdown on immigration while making it easier for Chinese to come to the UK. Combined with the problems around their pledge to reduce net migration – a statistic that the Government does not have the policy levers to control – there is a risk that the party looks unable to fulfil its promises.
He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
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