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EU Referendum: rolling out the play

Richard North, 09/10/2012   361


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It is coming to the point when there is not very much more to say about Mr Cameron's continuing "dance of the seven veils", never getting to the final veil, much less consummating the deal with his supporters in drafting a "new relationship with Europe".

This dire game, to the fury of so many, was being played out on the Today programme this moning, when the prime minister conceded that the EU referendum was the "cleanest, neatest, simplest and most sensible" way to get his "fresh consent" from the electorate. 

However, he is still framing this issue in the context of a "re-ordered European Union", which he expects to follow the ongoing eurocrisis, putting it into the post-election timescale, as even the Mail now admits. 

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The shape of Cameron's putative referendum also comes clearer, with him resisting the idea of an "in-out" referendum, instead stating a preference for a vote on "a newly negotiated role within the EU".

He thus professes to believe that the new treaty-in-the-making opens up "… the opportunity for Britain to get a fresh and a better settlement with Europe", then telling us that he is: "committed to making sure we do everything to set that out in the run-up to the next election, to get that fresh settlement and then seek fresh consent for that settlement".

When we get that fresh settlement, he agrees that "it needs consent". But then come the contortions: "either at a referendum or a general election ... but it's right to leave that question open for the time being".

Of course, the treaty negotiations are not going to be completed by the time we reach the general election, and, moreover, all the signs are that the colleagues are trying to keep it tight, with Van Rompuy currently proposing a separate budget for the eurzone.

On this basis, Cameron is not going to get his opportunity to renegotiate with the "colleagues", but at least he will be safely past the general election before his bluff is called – if he is still in office. That will leave him having to make a referendum offer just before the election, which was always the plan.

Fortunately for Cameron, most of his supporters – and the media – seem to have less idea of how the EU works than he does so he seems able, effortlessly to outflank them. Even his more critical admirers, as well as that growing band which admits to loathing him, are left seething impotently on the margins, while the play is rolled out.

Soon enough the Conservative Party conference will be over, and the "referenderites" will be no further forward than they were last week. All that is left is an autumn of speculation, and then a winter of speculation, a spring of speculation, a summer of … while Mr Cameron sails serenely above it all.


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