So David Cameron’s EU negotiations have been, to his mind at least, successful. We wouldn’t expect him to say anything else nor would we expect the most deeply Eurosceptic Conservative MP’s to be anything other than hostile. There are a few more diplomatic hurdles to be jumped but it now looks like the referendum on our future in the EU will take place this June.
I welcome the opportunity for people to have their say but I do hope that does not become a referendum on whether we think David Cameron is a good negotiator or not. The reality is that the changes he has negotiated are cosmetic and unlikely to make much difference to those who have a strong view one way or the other on our continued membership of the EU. The agreements on sovereignty and competitiveness in particular are almost meaningless and so much of the attention will be focused on what has been agreed on access to benefits for EU migrants. Very few European migrants come here to claim benefits and so with this the perception is more important than the reality.
What the referendum should therefore come down to is whether, overall, we are better as a country inside the EU than not. Nobody could say that the EU is a perfect institution but what institution is? I believe the advantages we gain through being in a large trading block and the many workplace rights we have derived from the EU contribute significantly to the “remain” argument and the huge degree of uncertainty about what “out” would look like means there is not a compelling alternative. No doubt we will return to this issue many times between now and June and I would welcome people’s comments, good and bad, about the EU.
It was a real pleasure to visit Hinderton Primary School last Friday where I talked to parents, staff and children. Specialising in education for children with autism it is undoubtedly one of the best schools in this field in the whole country. Talking to parents it was clear that although great strides have been made in recent years in supporting people with autism we can do much better in terms of greater awareness amongst the public of the condition and to ensure that greater opportunities both in education and in work are available.