Cameron, EU's Schulz at Odds Over Reversibility of British Deal

  • Polls say 45% back `Brexit', few firms have contingency plan
  • Opposition chief Corbyn says he backs staying in trade bloc

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and European Parliament President Martin Schulz are at odds over whether a renegotiation of Britain’s European Union membership could be reversed, while a poll of Britons found 45 percent would vote to leave the EU in a future referendum.

QuickTake Will Britain Leave the EU?

Schulz, speaking in an interview on Sky News, said that “legally binding decisions are also reversible -- nothing is irreversible.” Cameron, speaking at a press conference in Copenhagen Friday after Schulz spoke, said Britain would have to agree to reverse any deal signed by all 28 EU nations, and he vowed that the U.K. would never do so.

David Cameron in Copenhagen on Feb. 5

Photographer: Mathias Lovegreen/AFP/Getty Images

“While you can argue it’s technically reversible if we agreed to reverse it, it is in fact not reversible,” Cameron said, according to Sky. “It will be legally binding and irreversible.”

Cameron is stepping up a drive to win approval for a deal at a Feb. 18-19 summit of EU leaders in Brussels, which could let him deliver on his promise to hold a referendum on staying in the EU as early as June 23. EU President Donald Tusk this week offered Britain a four-year “emergency brake” on welfare for new migrants from the EU, safeguards to shield the U.K. financial system from interference by euro-area regulators and more powers for national parliaments. Cameron called Tusk’s offer a good result.

A YouGov poll in the Times newspaper Saturday, which surveyed more than 3,000 people after Cameron’s draft agreement was disclosed, showed 45 percent of voters would back a “Brexit” vote to leave the EU.

Schulz had previously said in London that he was concerned that Cameron’s draft plan gives the U.K. an effective veto over some EU matters, enabling a “serious roadblock” for future legislation.

FTSE 100 Survey

Cameron overcame a key obstacle in his bid to seal a new deal Friday when the leader of Poland’s ruling party declared himself “satisfied” that Poles living in the U.K. would have their interests secured in the British leader’s proposal to curb welfare benefits for new migrants.

A separate Financial Times survey of the 100 companies in Britain’s benchmark stock index published Saturday found one in six would speak out in favor of EU membership, while only four FTSE 100 firms were making contingency plans in case the U.K. were to leave the EU. One financial-services executive, whose identity wasn’t disclosed, told the newspaper that given his firm’s large number of retail clients, it was safer not to take a public position.

Labour Backing

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour party, backed staying in the EU at a party conference Saturday in Nottingham, England. While Labour has generally been more pro-EU than Cameron’s Conservatives, Corbyn had been more skeptical of the trade bloc prior to his surprise election as Labour leader.

“Our party is committed to keeping Britain in the EU because we believe it is the best framework for European trade and co-operation and is in the best interests of the British people,” he said. Labour would be “pressing the case for a real social Europe” in the referendum, he said, backing more rights for workers and opposing privatization.

Some 47 percent of Conservative voters would back the U.K. leaving the EU, compared with 60 percent for Labour and Liberal Democrat voters, according to YouGov. Half of undecided “swing” voters on the referendum identify themselves as Conservatives, YouGov said.

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