EU Referendum

EU referendum: country before party?


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Asked this morning by Andrew Marr for a "cast iron guarantee that a David Cameron-led government will give Britain an in-out referendum within two years", David Cameron replied, "Yes absolutely". There was no equivocation. He will not wait until the conclusion of any negotiations. There will be a referendum before the end of 2017.

We are thus confronting a situation where, potentially, we have a prime minister who does not have the first idea of what is going on in the EU, facing up to non-existent negotiations and then putting up an empty package to the nation with a recommendation that we stay in the European Union.

And please make no mistake. There can be no other outcome. A prime minister who is currently saying that: "Some of the things I'm calling for will require treaty change", without any apparent recognition of the reality, that he is simply not going to be able to deliver.

Helpfully, the Mirror has summarised Mr Cameron's shortlist, and it is very evident that he would have to have a treaty change.

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As the Booker column makes so clear today, there is not the slightest possibility of there being any treaty change before the end of 2017. This means, without a shadow of doubt, Mr Cameron could not offer any substantial changes, leaving him with an extremely weak hand and a very real prospect of the outers carrying the day.

This is, of course, conditional on Mr Cameron winning the 2015 general election, which is by no means assured. But it does present UKIP supporters with a dilemma. Do they stay with their party for the general election, with the risk of keeping the Conservatives out of power, or do they put their weight behind Mr Cameron, in the expectation that their reward will be a winnable referendum.

The question, therefore, is how badly do UKIP supporters want a referendum? And from that devolves a judgement: if they do get their referendum, do they think they can win it? Do they even know what it will take to win it?

Of course, the judgement could be that we would lose this referendum, even against an empty-handed Cameron – the main reason being that the anti-EU movement (including or especially UKIP) failed to get its act together. Then UKP supporters would have an easy choice. They could vote for their party, and do their best to keep the Conservatives out of power.

Thus, we would have the irony of seeing UKIP protecting us from a referendum that they would lose for us, and thereby keeping us that much longer in the European Union, in order that they can carry on the fight against our membership of the EU.

On the other hand, in the unlikely event that the disparate anti-EU groups could cast aside their differences, and unite behind a workable exit plan and a winning referendum strategy, then we would be better off pushing hard for a Conservative victory at the general election.

As to the euro-elections, with 9.7 percent of the 751 elected MEPs (post-2014 election), which party gets the majority of our 73 seats is an irrelevance. Even a clean sweep would get us no closer to a referendum.

Only once we are past the euros, therefore, will be get down to the serious stuff. As the polls stand, the most likely winner is Labour, but a Conservative victory is within the realms of the possibility if we all thought it was worth fighting for.

I suppose what this now boils down to is what UKIP supporters really want. Do they want a referendum and a chance to leave the EU, or do they want to damage the Tories, even at the cost of staying in the EU? That is not an easy choice, but one that we will have to consider very seriously. That might make the ultimate question: is UKIP going to put country before party?