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Far From a Triumph, The Prime Minister's 'Deal' Is a Disaster

04/02/2016 10:27 GMT | Updated 04/02/2017 10:12 GMT

The papers this week are vicious in their damnation of the so-called 'Deal' from the EU. This supposed triumph of reform has been derided in colourful terms from a 'joke' or 'illusion' to 'polishing poo'. Far from a triumph, the deal is a presentational disaster, far worse than Downing Street could ever have imagined. Not even the expected new 'rabbit out of the hat' will work - a clever new relationship label or a German constitutional option reforming the 1972 Act - it'll be surprising an empty room.

But this isn't even the final deal. President Tusk's letter to EU Leaders is shockingly non committal: 'The proposal is a good basis for a compromise... we should be prepared to discuss the possible incorporation of the substance of a few elements covered by the Decision into the Treaties at the time of their next revision'. Treaty change could have to wait to 2023 or even 2025 - so what we're being offered is an IOU - a vague promise of long off legal confirmation of weak measures now. Hardly taking firm control of our borders, economy or democracy. To stay on these terms in the EU is far riskier that Brexit.

This draft is just the start of formal Council negotiations. It awaits the secretive and overpowerful COREPER (no point asking for minutes) of Ambassadors and officials to 'fix' things, and the legal and administrative 'sherpas' that will work through the technicalities in time for political leaders to finalise over a long dinner Thursday 18th February and into following day(s). Leaders will not want to be barbequed at home for giving away powers they were not sufficiently aware of.

Whilst the deal has been cynically designed to be weak and insubstantial enough to sail through this Council, the EU is full of nasty surprises, and there are strong rumours that a De Gaulle style veto could be on the cards that could rock the whole theatrical set up.

Nor is the deal legally enforceable, experts say. One question the FCO does not want to answer is whether this deal would be enforceable without Treaty change. If you don't change the Treaties, then the current Lisbon treaty (Treaty on the Functioning of the EU) applies and the European Court of Justice can strike out elements of the deal made: particularly changes to benefits that would be seen to be discriminatory under Freedom of Movement and Discrimination rules. The first such case could unravel the deal. Nor is it clear whether a Heads of State deal is applicable to such use.

The proposed package itself is not a watered down version of Mr Cameron's original demands, it is diluted beyond recognition. There will not be any EU treaty change, which means that no powers whatsoever will be relinquished by Brussels and returned to our shores. Economic governance is obsessed with not being sucked into the Eurozone's black hole, competitiveness merely restates what is happening anyway. On the biggest issue facing Britain - immigration, the deal offers nothing of substance.

The Government has failed to deliver its promise to limit migrant benefits. The 'emergency brake' in migrant benefits is a sorry state of affairs. Firstly, it will not restrict migrant benefits for the four years promised in our party's manifesto. Secondly, the 'emergency brake' cannot be triggered by the UK - the decision is down to the EU. Britain can but beg the EU to implement the brake, and our public services would have to be provably in crisis to do so.

The 'red card plan' on sovereignty was the spin story Downing Street were desperate to deploy. The deal the Prime Minister has secured is, bizarrely, worse than the mechanism already in place. The present mechanism requires only a third of national parliaments to block EU law but the new system will require 55 per cent of national parliaments - 16 of the 28.

David Cameron previously called such an idea "arcane", whilst William Hague was spot on about the 'red card plan' when he said, in 2008: "Given the difficulty of Oppositions winning a vote in their Parliaments, the odds against doing so in countries around Europe with different parliamentary recesses... are such that even if the European Commission proposed the slaughter of the first-born it would be difficult to achieve such a remarkable conjunction of parliamentary votes."

The focus on the highly limited 4 areas of this deal deliberately obscure the fact that key areas of EU powers are left intact and unreformed: farming, fishing, foreign affairs and the External Action Service, the EU Army the EU will now demand, justice and home affairs, energy, environment, transport, culture, tourism, and so on.

Mr Cameron promised the British people 'fundamental change' in our relationship with Europe. What was unveiled yesterday does not even get to the starting line.

David Campbell Bannerman is a Conservative MEP and co-chair of Conservatives for Britain