David Cameron has acquired a track record as a politician who flies by the seat of his pants. In U.K. political circles, the joke is that he is an “essay crisis” primary minister who—like a disorganized student—leaves urgent tasks until the final moment. To his admirers in other European capitals, his potential to extricate himself from political holes frequently of his own digging marks him as a tactical genius, underlined by his shock victory in this year’s common election.
But has Mr. Cameron’s luck run out? His follow of discovering swift fixes to deal with the unintended consequences of the very last fast correct could have reached the conclude of the highway. A hasty assure manufactured at a minute of political weak spot final 12 months to modify European Union law to enable the U.K. to deny tax credits to staff from other EU nations till they had been working in Britain for 4 a long time has run into a wall. That is raising doubts about his capability to acquire a referendum to hold Britain in the EU that, in an before second of political weak point, he promised to maintain by the stop of 2017.
Mr. Cameron’s difficulty is that he is demanding the politically and legally extremely hard. He statements that restricting access to tax credits is essential to ensure that the generous U.K. welfare method is not acting as a “pull factor” for migrants. To the relaxation of the EU, his proposal smacks of blatant discrimination, properly levying a larger tax fee on other EU citizens for undertaking the identical task. That falls foul of the core EU basic principle that all citizens need to be totally free to reside and function without having discrimination anywhere in the European bloc, which is central to the political deal at the coronary heart of the EU’s solitary industry.
By September, British officers have been privately acknowledging what attorneys warned from the start off: that what Mr. Cameron was demanding could only be shipped by way of a change to the EU’s treaties, which no other place was prepared to contemplate. Faced with this truth, the U.K. govt experimented with to play down the migrant welfare problem and started talking up other requires, which includes new protections for non-eurozone nations and the U.K.’s financial-providers market.
But in modern weeks, it became very clear that Mr. Cameron couldn’t keep this line. His program to limit migrant benefits for 4 several years identified its way into the Conservative Party’s election manifesto before this calendar year. At the time, this pledge appeared value-cost-free: No one particular considered the celebration would acquire a parliamentary greater part and would consequently be certain by manifesto guarantees. Meanwhile, the pledge performed effectively with the party’s euroskeptic base. Now Mr. Cameron is being held to this unwell-judged commitment by people very same euroskeptics as a way to discredit his whole European technique.
Mr. Cameron’s response has been to try out to flip his issue into Europe’s issue. He has frequented every single one particular of the EU’s other 27 capitals, warning fellow leaders that until they give him what he wants—or one thing close to it—the U.K. may possibly vote to quit the EU. (Formally, he doesn’t rule out foremost the marketing campaign to exit himself.) At a summit in Brussels subsequent week, EU leaders will talk about above dinner how significantly they are ready to go to support Mr. Cameron.
The solution may be not extremely far at all. As Greek Primary Minister Alexis Tsipras identified earlier this 12 months, EU leaders tend not to respond well to perceived blackmail. There is some sympathy for Mr. Cameron’s predicament, and no nation desires the U.K. to go away the EU. But several argue that the difficulties recognized by Mr. Cameron would be greater addressed by means of reforms to Britain’s welfare program to make certain that benefits are only available to individuals who have contributed rather than by means of changes to basic EU legislation.
Apart from, Mr. Cameron’s threats ring hollow. Some recent polls advise the public is evenly split on whether or not to remain in the EU, and there is no question that Mr. Cameron’s need to limit migrant benefits is well-liked. But polls also demonstrate that most voters have not nevertheless considered difficult about the concern, which in any circumstance extends significantly beyond queries of migration. They also display that a strong suggestion by Mr. Cameron to stay in the EU would demonstrate quite influential for numerous voters.
Nor is the idea that Mr. Cameron may possibly marketing campaign to go away the EU 1 that need be taken significantly: Senior officials are distinct that their goal is to keep the U.K. in the EU. Mr. Cameron and senior ministers have manufactured also a lot of statements underscoring the relevance of EU membership to Britain’s stability and ridiculing most of the advised alternatives to be in a position to credibly swap sides.
That implies there will be no swift fix for Mr. Cameron this time. Instead, he might have little choice but to accept the confrontation with his party’s euroskeptics that he has expended a 10 years keeping away from. But at least he can do so realizing that as so often, he will very likely have British general public view on his aspect. It is certainly this, instead than tactical genius, that points out his political accomplishment so far.