LeaveHQ, 11/12/2015  

You might wonder why such a big fuss is being made about migrant benefits. In terms of the scale of our welfare system, it's not such a big deal. That is not to say there isn't a principle to be upheld though. We have certain expectations that our welfare system is equitable and fair to all, including those who pay for it. There is no good reason, however, why this should be a central feature of EU renegotiation.

The central issue for us is that we shouldn't have to go to Brussels to ask for permission to manage our welfare system according to our own values. It follows that we should seek a common framework of labour laws in order to promote an open and dynamic labour market, but workers from overseas are expected to provide their own contingencies lest our welfare system be unworkable and unfair. That said, were we to go to Brussels to renegotiate we would be making far more stringent demands.

So we must ask why no serious demands have been made. Put simply, the Prime Minister does not seek reform of our relationship with the EU, nor would he get it if asked. All he can do is put forth a list of vague requests for discussion that can be spun any which way when he is ready to go public with his stage managed "success".

Of course, there is a broad public understanding that this is the game in play, but it is only a superficial interpretation. David Cameron is playing a much more sophisticated game. Migrant benefits are very much the decoy. They are the device with which he can keep the media distracted, who can only ever focus on one issue at a time, knowing that they will fill the airwaves with irrelevant noise as news of "bang-the-table rows" emerge.

This is all geared at expectation management. And it's working. Current expectations of Cameron’s negotiations are modest: most people (74%) think that he is likely to achieve only minor reforms or none at all. That is as Mr Cameron wants it. The lower the expectation, the better he looks when he pulls associate membership out of the hat.

In most respects, associate membership addresses the vague suggestions put forth to the EU and can very easily be dressed up as significant changes to our relationship with the EU. With a media so utterly incapable EU analysis, and having failed to see it coming, associate membership will be a big deal to them and will be talked about as though it were a radical shake up of the EU. In many respects it will be for those member states in the Euro, but what it means for us is largely an unchanged master-slave relationship - out on the fringes of the EU.

By the time this debate is underway, the media will have dropped the migrant benefits issue like a stone and soon after it will be ancient history. It is largely a manufactured issue to begin with and not a central demand of eurosceptics despite how it has been presented. It will look like Cameron went to get minor changes and came back with a revolution.

Of course this only works of Mr Cameron can maintain low expectations. For this he needs for there to be a media with very little curiosity, analytical skill or attention span and an inept Leave campaign to do his work for him. For him, that's a fairly safe gamble. All he need do is keep the media busy in between. In the context of the UK in the EU, the migrant benefit reform issue is an example of "Look, Squirrel!!". It works rather well.

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