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Cameron’s deal is wafer thin, but that’s not the point

Britain’s real obstacles lie at home

The European Union’s model of shared sovereignty is in a mess. The eurozone needs closer integration, which the bloc’s electorates and politicians don’t want to accept. Schengen is in trouble, in part, because member states won’t allow the EU to control the external border or to distribute refugees. And Britain is flirting with leaving the EU because the right dislikes its power to determine British law, and its people dislike the free movement of workers.

The Prime Minister’s renegotiation was an attempt to sate his party’s demand for powers to be returned to Westminster, and the electorate’s desire for reduced immigration. Remember the context of his January 2013 speech at Bloomberg's headquarters. The Tories were lagging badly in the polls, as the economy flatlined (or so we thought: revisions to the data subsequently showed that the economy grew from 2009 onwards). Ukip was surging, and Cameron’s backbenchers were terrified of losing their seats. There was talk of a leadership challenge. As always happens when a Conservative prime minister is in a weak spot, the right of the party had started to bang on about Europe. Cameron needed to kick the EU issue past the next general election. He then needed to signal his euroscepticism, to satisfy his party, while keeping the option open to campaign to stay in the EU, which he rightly saw as in Britain’s national interest. A re-run of Harold Wilson’s gambit—a “renegotiation” of EU membership and a referendum on the deal—was, he thought, the only way to satisfy everyone.

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In Prospect’s March issue: Peter Pomerantsev describes the situation in Eastern Europe as the governments of Hungary and Poland turn right. Simon Tilford, from the Centre for European Reform, questions the substance of David Cameron’s EU deal and Philip Collins argues that Jeremy Corbyn is not fit for purpose. Also in this issue: Peter Kellner shows us that we are feeling more optimistic than during the last stages of the last Labour government and Jessica Abrahams explores the sexism of Valentine’s Day. Plus Justice Malala on South Africa and the Prospect Duel asks: "Should all immigrants learn English?"