Sooner or later someone is going to have to grasp the nettle of the EU question before the voters do it for them. Meanwhile Cameron has gone down the fudge route - promising referenda that he has no intention of delivering, whilst superficially appearing to have kept his promise. But the problem with fudging stuff is that there are unforeseen circumstances.
I've argued before that our membership of the EU survives largely because of apathy because its insidious actions are hidden. The question of the 'lock' may bring the whole EU issue out into the open. Let's take three scenarios that may happen should the bill pass into law:
- Cameron keeps his promise (unlikely I know but bear with me) and the lock is strong enough to be triggered by any transfer of power. This would mean, by virtue of the EU's insatiable appetite for power, a regular referendum every few months. For example since May such a law would have triggered a referendum at least twice; over the European Investigation Order and EU financial supervisors. The British people would have to keep going to the polls over the 'more sovereignty to the EU' question. Even the BBC would not be able to ignore the constant barrage of referendums. Support for the 'out' cause would soar in a very short space of time.
- More likely, the bill will be worded in such a way that it gives legal wriggle room. But can they account for everything? Transfer of powers to the EU occurs in some many forms that the government could be subjected to constant legal challenges (more publicity), similar to Stuart Wheeler's attempts over the Lisbon Treaty. But rather than a manifesto promise this lock will be a promise enshrined in law. What about the ratchet clauses, what if amendments are made to the Arrest Warrant, or the EIO that involve more transfer of powers? The list goes on. It will be a drip drip effect of legal challenges that question Cameron's integrity, not mention if one of the challenges actually win.
- It is worded in such a loose way that a referendum is never triggered. Given that 47% want exit from the EU according to a YouGov poll and the latest Eurobarometer only shows 20% trust in the institution, any perceived deception or otherwise will lead in a sharp rise for the 'out' campaign. The watered down Bill would be used as a perpetual 'cast iron' stick every time the EU transfers more power. It will be Cameron's Groundhog Day - every time power is transferred the inevitable cry will arise; "ah but you promised..."