Tuesday, 15 January 2013

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA

David Cameron is currently between devil and the deep blue sea over Europe, what with pro European and less than pro European Conservatives putting in their two euros worth and UKIP appealing to his right wing. On top of this he has to continue to appease his pro European Lib Dem coalition partners and also has to try not irritate or annoy his Americans Allies and the UK’s other European partners.

Last Wednesday the US Assistant Secretary of European Affairs, Philip Gordon, effectively issued a public warning that the US wanted to see a continued strong UK voice within the EU. The make things worse, some members of a cross-party delegation from the Bundestag's EU Affairs committee handily visiting London also expressed the view that a British departure from the EU could damage relations with Washington for both London and Brussels.

Europe - a Conservative self inflicted wound?
We have come a long way from the days of ‘Call me Dave’,’ I am sure that Dave could do without all these interventions, he and some of the other Euro sceptics might wish (quietly) that everyone else mind their own business. Now perhaps ironically he may begin to understand how the Scots and the Catalans feel in regard to outside intervention in their referendums on their constitutional futures.

Privately I suspect that PM no doubt hopes the whole thing EU membership thing can be put to bed until after the next Westminster election in 2015, preferably without having to commit publically to any real meaningful referendum.  The PM’s problem is that he is facing pressure to hold a referendum on Europe during the next Parliament and has gone so far as to say that the Conservatives will offer voters "real change" and "real choice" on the UK's position in Europe at the next Westminster election.

Things can only get better?
Any referendum on Europe is dependent upon a variety of factors: it will happen if the Conservatives will a working majority in the next Westminster Parliament so that they are not dependent on the Lib Dems . Even then it’s not plain sailing as Cameron has then to persuade other European countries  (including Germany and France) that there is a clear need to change the last EU treaty.

It is also worth noting that also any post 2015 referendum will also be dependent upon the Conservatives being able to get what they want in any negotiations with the EU. And finally any European referendum is dependent upon David Cameron believing that he can win it (which pretty much will confirm that whatever the question may be it won’t be a simple yes (in) or No ( out) choice. Unless those conditions are all met there won’t be a referendum.

We lived in a different world, the last time the electorate was given a vote on Europe was in 1975 (I was 9) - on referendum day the Sun editorial called on people to vote to stay in the then Common Market. The last thing the Conservatives, the Lib Dems or the Labour Party in Westminster want to end up doing is to give the electorate anything like an meaningful debate (or choice) on Europe, whether in, out or shake it about, they would far rather discuss it behind closed doors in Westminster and keep the electorate at arm’s length.

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