EU Referendum

EU politics: Myrtle in denial


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These days, I tend to give Myrtle a wide berth. This is a party-political hack who has long stopped thinking for himself. But what intrigues about his latest offering is not the probability that he is being deliberately obtuse, but that so few of the 1,600 comments (at the time of writing) take him to task on the substantive point.

Thus, while Hannan applauds his party boss for a plan to invoke the Parliament Act on the Referendum Bill, there is plenty of disbelief expressed about Mr Cameron's intentions, but very little about the near-certainty that a 2017 referendum is a non-starter.

If we go back to Mr Cameron's Bloomberg speech on 23 January last, one will recall that, in the next Conservative Manifesto in 2015, he promised to ask for "a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament".

Following that, he has signalled his intention to present the new "settlement" to the British people, on which basis they will be allowed to vote on whether to stay in or withdraw from the European Union.

As it stands, therefore, the idea is that the newly appointed prime minister will go to Brussels to seek changes which, by his own definition, are going to be "radical" and therefore necessitate treaty changes. And, under the consolidated treaty provisions, as amended by the Lisbon Treaty, (see Article 48) this, has to come under the "ordinary revision procedure". The President of the European Council must convene a convention – he has no option.

This is not a state secret – the procedure is, after all, set out in the treaty. But it is also very obvious that the "colleagues" are going to beat Mr Cameron to the punch. They are planning for a convention to start (most probably) in the Spring of 2015, before even the British general election.

Even with an early start like this, though, it must be obvious to the likes of Myrtle, that there is no chance of delivering a signed treaty before the end of 2017. It simply cannot happen. Myrtle must know this. Even his Westminster colleagues are dimly aware of this.

No only this but, in a convention and then the subsequent IGC, the agenda is very much in the hands of the European Council and, through that, the President of the Council. He has almost complete control, and can keep unwelcome ideas out of harm's way. When a new treaty is finally presented – possibly in 2018 – it won't even be close to anything Mr Cameron's might want.

Whatever the content though, the new treaty will have to be ratified and that requires a "yes-no" referendum, not an "in-out" poll. Mr Cameron hasn't thought this through. But then, neither has Myrtle.

He – Myrtle, that is - thinks (or tries to convince us) that this Mr Cameron pushing his Bill is a "transformative development". Doing nothing, he says, "no longer means that the issue will go away; doing nothing now means that the referendum will automatically take place". The relationship between Westminster and Brussels, he adds, "will now be determined, not by a handful of ministers and mandarins, but by the people as a whole".

In time, a referendum may be possible, but a few more people should be telling Hannan that this is not going to happen in 2017. Before we even get that far, we will have to decide whether to give the "colleagues" their new treaty. And that is an altogether different ball game.