Richard North, 09/12/2012  

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With the first piece in Booker's column loosely based on this, and a kiddie snatching story" dipping in the same well as this, there might be a familiar feel to EURef readers.

And the third story also breaks in ground well-tilled by this blog. As the clamour grows for us to have a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, Booker here ponders on how much either of the two main camps emerging round this issue actually know about the EU.

This is an extremely pertinent question for, in the light of David Cameron and Boris Johnson seeming to agree on the way to deal with "Europe". Both favour the idea that we should be asked to choose between either the Government negotiating a "looser" relationship with the EU but staying in it, or voting to get out altogether.

What would happen her is that we would thus be asked to vote in advance for a new relationship with the EU without any idea of what that might be, with Cameron et al relying on people being so fearful of leaving the EU without knowing what this might involve that they would vote overwhelmingly to stay in.

This, of course, is based on the promise that we might somehow negotiate a "looser relationship" amounting to little more than remaining free to trade with the EU in the single market, something that even bandwagon-jumper Liam Fox is playing with. The problem here is that there is no indication that our EU colleagues would agree to such negotiations unless we take the only course that could legally compel them to do so: by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

However, says Booker, this they could not possibly contemplate because it would require us first to say that we wish to leave the EU altogether. Only then could the negotiations they want begin.

On the other hand, the more extreme Eurosceptics are so blinded by their hatred of the EU that they imagine we could just wave a magic wand and say we are leaving – and the most obvious problem with this is that one cannot imagine any British government doing such a thing.

Thus both camps live in a fantasy world, calling for something that isn't going to happen. Of course it would be eminently desirable for Britain to get off this sinking ship. But to achieve this would require very much more hard-headed attention to the reality of our situation than any politician has shown so far.

That piece, though, was written before the Paterson interview, with neither of us knowing that the Secretary of State for Defra was going to come out into the open.

Although Paterson stopped shot of recommending Article 50, we can see the direction of travel. Sooner of later, it must dawn on even the europhile politicians that this is the only reliable way of obtaining a "new relationship" with the EU.

Perversely, the main blockage may well become what Booker calls the "extreme Eurosceptics", blinded by their hate and unable to respond to strategic necessity or think tactically.

The thing is, immediate withdrawal from the EU is a very attractive option, but it simply isn't real world politics. Yet, while invoking Article 50, with all that that entails, may not be clean and simple, it does give us what is probably the only certain way of achieving a break.

How ironic it will be then if the fantasists from either or both camps actually block this option and end up keeping us in the EU. And it the extremists ever prevent the Article 50 option happening, one might wonder what their real agenda really is. Do they really want to leave the EU, or it the gravy train too attractive.


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