Friday 11 May 2012

Is An EU Referendum On The Cards...?

What has become noticeable recently is the marked increase in 'chatter' in the Westminister village that one or all of the bigger parties are set to offer a referendum, of sorts, on our EU membership. In large part it would appear that the threat of UKIP, particularly to the Tories, is prompting much of the momentum towards political calculations of offering a plebiscite on the 'European question'.

James Forsyth in the Spectator argues that one from the Tories is now almost certain, primarily because (my summary):
  1. ...Boris Johnson’s decision while campaigning last month to sign up to the campaign for an in/out referendum on EU membership could be a key moment in the history of the Conservative party. The real significance of Boris’s signature might come when he runs for the leadership, as he surely will at some point in the future. No rival could afford to give Boris the head start that he would have as the only candidate promising a referendum would give him. A commitment to give the public a vote on Europe will be the minimum price of admission for the next leadership contest.
  2. The Tory leadership is acutely aware that, after five years of compromises, it will need something in the next manifesto to fire up the base. Tory MPs in marginal seats complain that their pool of canvassers has been drained, and that, without action, the party risks a limited presence on the ground in these constituencies in 2015. A referendum on Europe is the obvious answer. It is one the leadership seems set to embrace. The popularity of Cameron’s EU veto [sic] made his circle realise how much of a political asset Euroscepticism could be, if used in the right way

  3. There is also concern in No.10 that if the Tories don’t offer the public a vote, Labour will.
  4. The Tory leadership’s worry is not that Ukip will win seats in 2015, but that the votes it claims in crucial marginals could make the difference between the Tories winning or losing
So in short it will be a wheeze to shoot Boris' fox prior to a potential leadership contest, to shore up the Tory vote, worries that Labour will get there first, and to protect Tory backbenchers from UKIP.

Labour also have good partisan reasons to be tempted by calling for an in or out referendum: it would outmaneuver Cameron on a subject he wishes to avoid, no doubt it would also split the Tory party and such a referendum promise would provide a poll boost. The latter consideration is being taken seriously as Patrick O'Flynn of the Express notes:
All the party leaderships are getting jumpier every week about whether one will secure a poll gain by breaking ranks and offering an EU ref
Notice, however, what's missing? Any pretence that this has anything to do with the national interest. Instead it's merely naked tactical positioning and political self-interest. Which doesn't bode well, to say the least, that a referendum when it happens will be based on anything other than very loaded dice in the establishment's favour. This is apparently from the Tories who wish to have a third 'renegotiation' option:
My understanding is that, at the moment, the favoured option is to propose renegotiation, followed by a referendum on the new arrangements within 18 months. During the campaign, the Tories would argue for staying in if new terms could be agreed but leaving if the rest of Europe refused to play ball. 
In other words they're going to fix it in their favour. We've been here before with Harold Wilson in 1975 on the then EEC prior to the last referendum:
"I believe that our renegotiation objectives have been substantially though not completely achieved"
We should be governed on our terms not theirs and we can only do this by power not by trust or hope - by them being servants not masters. The forthcoming Old Swan meeting is more important than ever.


  1. Well I suppose they could aways make a cast-iron promise to hold a referendum after the next time we're stupid enough to elect them.

    It worked before, after all.

    Fool me twice, shame on me...

  2. To be honest I rather think that the end is nigh for the European Union. At some point in the near future, the Greeks are going to tell the EU precisely where it can stick its austerity measures and drop out of the Euro, defaulting on all debt as they go. Portugal, Spain and Italy will likely follow suit and will once again default on their way out of the club.

    This will have the effect of clobbering several banks, and sickening off the Germans very badly indeed. It will likely hammer a stake through Angela Merkel's career (aided by the many German politicians whom she has made enemies of over the years) and at this point, something rather interesting may happen.

    Germany might well be next to quit the Euro club.

    At some point along this path, France will get seriously upset and go on strike, probably some time when there's nice weather. Nobody will notice, which will annoy the frogs still further.

    The challenge here for the collection of chinless wonders and socialist neanderthals we are pleased to call a body politic is this: summoning the backbone and growing sufficient balls to hold a referendum on EU membership (NOT a wishy-washy farting about the edges referendum but a proper in/out one) before the EU enters the inevitable Circling The Drain phase and renders the need for a referendum moot.

    If anyone's taking bets, I'm up for twenty quid (in fine silver) on our bunch of twerps not managing to muster the nerve.