David Cameron is not the first British prime minister to return from Europe waving a piece of paper hailed as a breakthrough in our time.
The most memorable is Neville Chamberlain’s deal with Hitler before the Second World War and everyone knows how that one ended.
Of course, Cameron’s much hailed renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership with the European Union will not trigger troops and tanks rolling across Europe, but a bitter war of words is likely to ensue.
Cameron wanted agreement from the other European states on four main issues.
What he got seems to be appeasement. Cameron knows Europe does not want to wave goodbye to Britain and his counterparts across the Channel know Britain cannot afford to leave either.
So they had to find some place to meet in the middle.
What Cameron has is a 16-page letter from European Council president Donald Tusk which does little to change the wording of any agreements but goes a long way to reinterpreting some of the legal jargon in favour of Britain.
What Cameron wanted – and what he got
- Greater powers for Westminster to say no to EU legislation and the right to move away from closer integration into a federal state controlled from Brussels
Tusk agreed that integration was not a one-size fits all exercise and that different countries could maintain their own agendas on unification and that EU laws could be vetoed if 55%of votes in national parliaments were against the proposal
- Immigration and benefits – Tusk agreed the emergency brake that would allow the UK to stop paying benefits to new migrants from other EU states for four years after the result of the proposed UK referendum on staying or leaving the EU.
- Protection from the euro for sterling – Cameron wants to safeguard the pound as a currency within Europe and to ensure Britain does not have to contribute to Eurozone bail-outs if a country’s economy fails.
The details here are a bit hazy, but Tusk agreed in principle. The converse is the weaker Eurozone feels protection from sterling may suit them.
- Less regulation for businesses to increase competitiveness – a negotiating giveaway really and something both sides readily agreed
Now the in-out campaigning frenzy kicks off in the UK, with Cameron wanting the agreement ratified as soon as possible in Europe and a referendum date in June – probably on June 23.