Richard North, 12/02/2015  

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In what is a classic parody of itself, the Express has written a comedy script for its front page, announcing that the Prime Minister has "privately told Tory MPs" that he would be "delighted" to trigger an EU referendum earlier than the end of 2017.

This is based on the phrasing of a letter to "Tory backbenchers", where Mr Cameron says that, "The sooner I can deliver on our commitment of renegotiation and a referendum, the better" – essentially a reiteration of his comment in early January on the Andrew Marr show.

And on that slender basis – and solely on that basis - we get the front-page headline: "New plan for an early EU vote".

The rest of the article is pure, distilled boilerplate, an example of the black art of fabricating a story out of absolutely nothing. This extends even to the point of publishing as weak a rebuttal as they can get away with, having: "Downing Street insiders deny there is any specific plan to hasten the referendum time table to ensure that the poll would be held next year".

Worryingly, thought, they get a comment from Luke Stanley, of "the cross-party Eurosceptic campaign group" Get Britain Out saying: "Britain deserves a say on our continued membership of the European Union as soon as possible", then adding: "We all know Cameron's reform agenda is a joke, and we shouldn't have to wait around until December 2017 to hear how bad the punchline is".

This does nothing more than demonstrate a disturbing lack of situational awareness, typical of certain quarters of the "eurosceptic" community, which seem to take great pride in keeping themselves ill-informed – almost parading their own ignorance as a badge of honour.

The point, of course, is that Mr Cameron is the man who sold a non-existent treaty veto to the media. He can be expected to dress up a "renegotiation" deal in the very finest of Brussels taffeta, and with the prospect of a new treaty on the cards, there is every reason to believe that his offering will be, at the very least, plausible.

And this is the trouble with much of our own side, who seem determined to obsess about irrelevant trivia, failing lamentably to keep their eyes on the ball, drifting into a contest which for which they will end up completely unprepared.

With the comprehensive failure of the media correctly to read the runes (sometimes, I think, deliberately), the media face of the eurosceptic argument is left to the charlatans of Business for Britain who still hold that we should wait to see what Mr Cameron comes up with before we decide to vote whether to stay in or leave.

Should we do that - with the likes of the Express and others muddying the waters and Ukip (perhaps fortunately) having vacated the field – it would be too late to come up with a credible alternative. Fortunately, though, we are nearly there.

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