Cameron Wins E.U. Reforms, But Will Britain Vote to Stay?

A referendum on Britain's place in the E.U. is scheduled for June 23

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced a deal late Friday that will bring some changes to Britain’s relationship to the E.U. He will now seek to persuade the British public that it’s in their best interest to stay in the union.

After more than 40 hours of talks with E.U. heads of state, Cameron pledged to campaign with his “heart and soul” for his country to remain a member of the E.U., though he still has “doubts” about the institution. He’ll seek cabinet approval as early as Saturday from his counterparts before announcing a date for a referendum, scheduled for June 23.

Weary after six months of shuttle diplomacy in several E.U. states, the U.K. Prime Minister secured reforms on several issues that had concerned the British, including a contentious “emergency brake” mechanism that allows a country to curtail benefits to low-skilled migrant workers from outside of the U.K. Under the deal Cameron struck, the U.K. will be able to deny these workers in-work benefits, including housing and other tax exemptions, for a four-year period. The newly agreed-upon system can remain in place for seven years, though Cameron had originally requested 13 years.

The deal also confirmed that the child benefit paid to E.U. workers whose children live overseas will now be based on the rate for the child’s current home country. So, if a Polish worker in the U.K. has children living in Poland, his or her child benefit will be paid based on Polish rates and not the full British payout.

However, after major opposition from Hungary, Solvakia, Poland and the Czech Republic—the countries that export the highest number of low-skilled workers, who rely on these benefits—it was agreed that the current payout structure would remain in place until 2020.

These changes to welfare, which impact non-British E.U. workers, appears to be the biggest win for Cameron after the marathon negotiations. The reforms may satisfy the populist demand to end the culture of “something for nothing” that Cameron and others find most problematic about E.U. membership.

Still, while the reforms may be popular, according to the Bruegel think tank’s research the reduction amounts to just .26% of total U.K. child benefit claims.

Another issue that Cameron is touting as a victory is a written statement in future treaties that the “ever closer union”—an aspiration for Europhiles who wish to increase cooperation in politics, governance and culture—does “not apply to Britain.” In practice this means little, but in theory it illustrates Britain’s defiance of continuous European integration.

Cameron also listed his reasons for Britain to remain in the E.U., including trade and security, and he reminded the public that the raison d’être of a united Europe is to secure peace after many years of war and division.

In addition, Britain’s “closest friends” in the U.S., Canada and Australia “[want] us to stay,” said Cameron, while “turning back on the E.U. is no solution.”

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