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3 November 2015updated 04 Nov 2015 10:57am

George Osborne’s five tests: the Chancellor marks his own homework

Eurosceptics have long believed that David Cameron's "renegotiation" will be an exercise in smoke and mirrors - and on this evidence, they're probably right.

By Stephen Bush

In 1997, in the back of a cab, Gordon Brown and Ed Balls drew up five tests for Britain’s membership of the European single currency. They were tests that could, in theory, be met at any time – but in practice, were intended to frustrate Tony Blair’s desire to join the Euro forever.

Today, George Osborne unveils his own five tests for David Cameron’s European Union renegotiation: support for the integrity of the single market, recognition that the European Union has more than one currency, voluntary participation in the banking union, British taxpayers to be protected from having to bailout the Eurozone countries, and protection for non-Eurozone countries if the union integrates further.

 They are the mirror image of of Brown’s five tests: you can thereotically see how “renegotiation” could fail the five tests, but in practice, it’s highly unlikely that they will be.

Two of them – support for the integrity of the European Single Market and recognition of more than one currency – are almost, in effect, non-issues. No-one seriously believes that Britain will join the Euro. The single market is why Britain and the Baltics remain in the European Union. It is going nowhere. As far as banking union and bailouts are concerned, Britain is asking for a formal recognition of the existing status quo. 

But that Osborne is in charge of the renegotiation as well as setting the terms means that he is marking his own homework: it would be remarkable if he declared himself a failure. The bigger question is how the press and MPs react. The In Campaign is all too aware, in the words of one senior aide, that “it will not be like 1975”, when the media was almost uniformly pro-European. “Even the supportive papers will hold us to account, while most of the press will be relentlessly critical,” says one staffer. 

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As for MPs, Osborne’s unambitious targets are a challenge in of themselves. Theresa May, the most popular choice among the public to lead the campaign to leave the European Union, has given herself wriggle room by saying she is waiting to see what the fruits of renegotiation are. Osborne has set himself a target that is too low to miss – so does she, and other Eurosceptics around the Cabinet table, account for their opposition to remaining In without traducing the Prime Minister and his Chancellor? For May, the post-Cameron future is either retirement or the premiership, making an attack on Osborne’s aims less risky. But for MPs at the start of their careers, it makes support for Out rather more perilous than it was yesterday.

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