The phony war of the phony renegotiation is over. The political battle of the year (or decade, or century – depending on your priorities) is underway.
Your perspective on how the Prime Minister did in the renegotiation depends entirely on your expectations. Many people expected him to achieve a big fat zero, but with limitations on benefits to EU migrants agreed, he certainly got more than that. But if you were hoping for a fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with Europe, you are of course going to be underwhelmed.
In the first days since the deal was published, there has been an interesting divergence between media response and political reaction. The media reaction from many of the best read papers has been incredibly hostile – far worse than Number 10 were expecting. But politically, the euro-sceptics in the Conservative Party remain relatively mute. Since May’s election triumph there is a loyalty to David Cameron that didn’t exist before and many MPs are thinking long and hard before they come out and oppose him in public. As a result, the “outers” lack a real champion, and desperately need a big hitter like Theresa May or Boris Johnson to come out as their de-facto leader.
Whilst the polls (see below) remain all over the place, it is hard to form a view on how this one will go. But in all the big referendums of recent decades (electoral reform, Scottish independence and joining the Common Market) the British people have voted for the status quo. Cameron might just have achieved enough from his EU deal that he’s given the “outers” a big mountain to climb. But with more than four months to the most likely polling day, 23 June, this one has a long way to run.