‘To be, or not to be together, that is the question.’
In a tweet that doesn’t quite do Shakespeare justice, European Council president Donald Tusk shared a draft of the deal that is supposed to keep Britain on board.
The EU will want to keep Britain in the family and to achieve that goal they couldn’t leave the British Prime Minister hanging.
Does that mean David Cameron got everything he wanted? Of course not.
Instead of a four-year ban on in-work benefits for migrants, the PM gets to limit migrants’ rights to benefits with these rights gradually increasing.
On the other hand, Britain’s interests in the single market are protected, the power of national parliaments will be strengthened, and Britain won’t have to integrate further if it doesn’t want to.
It’s a predictable deal that was followed by predictable statements from all players involved, for the most part.
Cameron hailed the document as ‘a great deal’ and said it ‘sure would’ make him want Britain to stay. He even used an old classic: ‘it’s the best of both worlds.’
Honestly what else was he going to say?
But he wasn’t the only one whose speech had been ready before the outcome. His opponents came with their go-to adjectives like ‘pathetic’ and ‘insubstantial’ before the PM was done speaking.
The papers didn’t disappoint, either. Most of them joined the hysteria over a deal that everybody pretty much expected to pan out this way.
Depending on your newspaper subscription, you will either have read ‘Our deal turns to farce’ or ‘Tusk yields to Cameron’s demands’. Since these statements are mutually exclusive, we can safely assume neither is right.
It hardly matters because nobody reads newspapers for the news anyway.
Essentially what both sides disagree on is whether or not Cameron lived up to his manifesto pledges. Cameron says he did, opponents say he didn’t.
Welcome to the world of spin!
Theresa May off the fence
What’s worth focusing on are the people who said something different than expected. In this case, that was Theresa May.
The Home Secretary has long been a question mark with many on the Brexit side hoping for her to head their campaign. On Tuesday she emerged as a surprise ally of David Cameron when she underlined what’s on the table is ‘a basis for a deal’.
These words changed the dynamic within the Conservative party and could impact the future of the Tories.
But I’ll get to that in a second.
It’s as good as certain that following the negotiations the Prime Minister will lead the ‘In’ campaign with May as a high profile cabinet minister by his side.
Meanwhile many Tory MPs are still undecided with media claiming cabinet ministers plan to go against the PM as soon as they are let off the leash.
The irony of this situation is not lost on those who know Cameron’s primary motivation behind this referendum was to unite his party.
Boris’s golden opportunity
What does May siding with Cameron mean for the internal politics of the Tory party?
On that topic, I received this message from Ben:
“Is Boris a Eurosceptic now? The Standard is talking like he is… What an opportunist!”
To be clear, the Mayor of London hasn’t publicly chosen a side yet. He’s always marketed himself as more Eurosceptic than the party leader, probably with the next Tory leadership election in mind.
I wouldn’t say the past days have made Johnson an opportunist. But I would say recent developments have created a golden opportunity for an ambitious man like the London mayor.
He’s been given a chance to defeat not only the tandem Cameron-Osborne, but also Theresa May. May was long expected to be Johnson’s main rival on the Eurosceptic Tory right. Now he could take his main rivals all down at once.
If you can look past Boris’s Borisness and his goofy hair, the Leave campaign could have a worse face.
Johnson is a big name, reasonably liked by the public and he’s written for the Telegraph’s Brussels desk. Since he’s reported on the Commission, he could portray himself as an ‘insider’ that knows the EU’s dirty little secrets.
No doubt he’s considering it. If he pulls it off and guides Britain to the exit, he’ll immediately become a frontrunner to replace Cameron – the man he beat. That’s good for his street cred.
The reason he hasn’t claimed that spot already is because the opposite is equally true. If he fails, that losing campaign will haunt him and he’d start a possible leadership bid on the back foot.
As much as the outcome of the referendum will shape the future of Britain, it could be just as important for the direction of the Conservative party. A Brexit win would give the hard right a bigger say.
Lately the media has been happy to entertain itself with the skirmishes within the Labour party. But let’s not forget the Tories are in a civil war themselves.
With a referendum that might be held in June, the time has come to pick a side. Now that May has come out in support of Cameron, others will need to come off the fence too.
One thing is true for all of them: when the dust settles and the gunpowder has evaporated, nobody wants to be on the losing side.