As a Visiting Fellow at the European Policy Centre and President of the Union of European Federalists, he is a true EU insider. His connections and access to people who really know what is going on in Brussels is beyond contest.
With that in mind, when Duff writes a piece focusing on the David Cameron's 'renegotiation', the EU reaction to it and what can or cannot be achieved, he is worth reading. He has written one such piece for the German Verfassungsblog. It is worth reading in full, but below are some key sections along with some commentary of my own to put things in context.
Tory stitch upSome important truths that Duff shares include the fact that the party conference season has shown that Cameron cannot expect the ‘pro-European’ opposition forces of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, SNP or Greens to weigh in cosily behind a partisan Tory renegotiation. He goes on:
As things stand, it looks as though the prime minister will be fighting a fairly lonely referendum campaign with the backing of some but by no means all representatives of business and the City of London – and with his own government and party split asunder.This is because the campaign is an overtly Tory stitch up. That's why hangers on like Matthew Elliott, are being backed by Tory grandees who are also supporting Cameron. It's an absolute con.
Elliott and his friends, 'Elliott's Four', stand to make a lot of money from the campaign if they win official Leave campaign designation by awarding themselves positions and contracts as they did in the No to AV campaign, enabling them to hoover up huge volumes of data. The Tories stand to gain electoral and political intelligence about millions of voters from the purchase of that data from Elliott's Four and with Elliott at the helm the Leave campaign will almost certainly be as badly run as the No to AV campaign, and lose.
The sham renegotiation
Belated recognition of these apparently unforeseen difficulties has forced Cameron to delay presenting his EU partners with a substantial catalogue of explicit demands. Instead, he and his team are going about Europe talking of ‘baskets’ of issues such as transparency, vetoes for national parliaments and reserve powers for non-eurozone states to block the eurozone majority: no texts have yet been tabled. The result is that nobody quite knows what the British are doing. London’s vague and often conflicting messages are mystifying.This more than anything underlines what genuine Eurosceptics have long argued, that the renegotiation is a sham, it's all for show. Behind the spin there is no substance. Cameron isn't serious about a new deal, he is a paid up member of the Remain club and he won't demand anything meaningful. Cameron's team is giving the impression of being busy while doing nothing. Duff goes on:
At the EU institutions, indeed, other important matters are more pressing than Brexit.While the sham renegotiation and run up to the referendum gives the UK media the kind of bust up it loves to drool over, observations about the relative lack of importance of the Brexit saga in Europe is an inconvenient reality. The EU has bigger fish to fry. For the EU this isn't an important matter because they know Cameron isn't serious. It's all theatre.
Ever closer unionDuff also deals with the commitment to ever closer union. Dismissed by Nick Clegg as 'flim-flam before you get to the meat and potatoes', and routinely dismissed by Europhiles desperate to conceal the truth as a matter only taken seriously by the British and just a preamble and nothing else, Duff as a true EU insider is happy to be open about its true nature (bold emphasis is mine):
Amid this general British grumpiness there is the very specific demand to extricate the UK from the historic mission of the Union to ‘ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’. This issue is not merely of marginal significance, as is often alleged by pro-Europeans who should know better. The phrase has always appeared in the preambles of successive European treaties, but was upgraded in the Maastricht treaty (signed by Cameron’s predecessor as Tory prime minister, John Major) and given pride of place in Article 1 of the Treaty on European Union.
Worthless binding promisesAnother valuable piece of Duff's commentary concerns the worth of binding pledges to address any demands Cameron eventually makes, in a forthcoming treaty. The EU approach to such pledges is exposed for all to see (further bold emphasis from me):
There is no precedent in the history of the EU of a member state ripping up its existing treaty obligations. It is true that both Denmark and Ireland were granted special Council decisions and (non-binding) declarations in the effort to overcome negative referendum votes on the Treaties of Maastricht, Nice or Lisbon. But these were concessions designed to permit treaties that had already been signed by every head of government to enter into force. The supplementary agreements were mainly of a tautological or oxymoronic nature – affirming that the treaties meant in fact what they said – although some took the form of promised future additions to treaty texts. (A similar agreement after the signing of the Lisbon treaty was made with the Czech Republic concerning the Charter of Fundamental Rights but was never delivered.) It is important to note, however, that none of those special measures amounted to new opt-outs; none made any substantive change to the treaties as agreed; and all were crafted, with a mixture of high politics and low cunning, to accomplish a successful ratification of a treaty change which deepened the integration of Europe.Such honesty cannot be found among Cameron and his team. It would not help their case for remaining in a dishonest and anti democratic union that revels in tricking people in order to further its own interests at their expense, and making promises it has no intention of keeping.
Treaty change realityWhat Duff goes on to talk about isn't new for those who have carefully monitored the EU Referendum blog, but is nonetheless dynamite because it is a Europhile admission of reality that reinforces what will not be possible, despite Tory assurances to the contrary.
To be fair to David Cameron, he has been talking for ages about the need for treaty change. He must now accept that the next general revision of the treaties will not begin until after 2017 when the French and German elections and the British referendum are out of the way. So the temptation now looms to go for a limited bilateral treaty between the UK and the EU to ‘resolve the relationship’, as Hammond puts it.
Yet this is another false trail. Such a new treaty would have to amend the UK’s treaty of accession to the European Community which was signed by the then Conservative prime minister Edward Heath on 22 January 1972. The preamble to that treaty says its signatories were ‘united in their desire to pursue the attainment of the objectives’ of the Treaties, and ‘determined in the spirit of those Treaties to construct an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe on the foundation already laid’. That statement, incidentally, rather gives the lie to those British eurosceptics like David Cameron who pretend that the decision to join the EEC was about a common market only. But it suddenly carries greater weight as one of Heath’s Tory successors seeks to remove it.
Article 6 of the Act attached to the accession treaty says:
The provisions of this Act may not, unless otherwise provided herein, be suspended, amended or repealed other than by means of the procedure laid down in the original Treaties enabling those Treaties to be revised.So short cuts are ruled out. Today, the relevant revision procedure is found in Article 48 TEU which lays down that an amendment to or derogation from Article 1 would require all the works: a constitutional Convention (if the European Parliament so insisted, as it would), followed by unanimous agreement between and ratification by all twenty-eight member states of the Union according to their own constitutional requirements (which in many cases means referenda).
Associate Membership or Brexit only, reform not possibleAgain, not new to readers of EU Referendum, but no doubt this will be breaking news to Matthew Elliott's special enrichment vehicle and the cor blimey gang over at Leave.EU:
Try as they might, the cleverest EU lawyers will find no route to satiate the British desire for an irreversible, legal guarantee that would change the nature of the European project. The likelihood increases, therefore, that the Brexit renegotiation is doomed to fail and that the referendum results in a vote to leave the EU. Once that happens we are plunged into Article 50 territory and complicated secession negotiations lasting about two years. The end product will be a ‘withdrawal agreement’ in the form of a bilateral treaty between the UK and the EU. It will be negotiated by the Commission and concluded by the Council, acting by qualified majority without the British, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. If treated with care, that new treaty might possibly comprise a package deal to craft a new form of affiliate membership of the Union that might suit the UK as well as other determinedly anti-federalist, non-eurozone states. Once the full facts are known, a second referendum should not be ruled out.Once again, it is worth reading the whole original piece as there are other valuable insights that can help inform an effective Leave campaign. Duff's candour does little to help Cameron and the Remain campaign, rather it makes him one of the best allies the Brexiteers have in the fight to leave the EU. It cannot be overstated how vital it is to understand your opponents, and to that end Duff is great resource to have.