On Friday night, British Prime Minister David Cameron emerged from a marathon European Council meeting in Brussels with a new settlement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. The negotiations were prompted a pledge that the ruling Conservative Party had made during the 2015 general election to seek such a renegotiation. The new agreement covers key areas including economic governance, immigration, and welfare benefits, and competitiveness.
But the deal, for which negotiations began last year following May’s Conservative election victory, will not be the end of the matter. Rather, it is only the start of a process that will determine whether the United Kingdom will stay in the 28-member union, with a public referendum on EU membership announced for June 23.
The poll will probably be the defining issue of the current British parliament, and it will help decide the future political and economic character of the United Kingdom and the European Union. In the shorter term, it will also set the political weather in the United Kingdom in 2016 and beyond, with the prime minister potentially being forced to resign if pro-Brexit forces win the day.
During the long renegotiations, Cameron achieved more than many observers had believed was possible. The government’s wins include recognition that the United Kingdom is not committed to ever closer European political integration; the institution of a seven-year break on new EU migrants claiming work benefits in the United Kingdom; and the acceptance that the United Kingdom, even though it is not a member of the eurozone, can refer contentious eurozone financial regulation to the European Council when it has “reasoned opposition,” forcing delays to implementation until concerns are addressed. This last measure reflects Cameron’s desire to try to safeguard the country’s extensive financial sector from any European rules that could put United Kingdom-based institutions at a disadvantage to eurozone counterparts, thus undermining the integrity of the single market. For its part, EU leaders also promised to work on enhancing European
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