In, out, or shake it all about?

‘Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, [David Cameron] said voters would be offered “real choice” on this at the next election.’

There’s something I’d like to see, but I won’t hold my breath.

As I have said before, I am extremely sceptical of any political party offering any modicum of “real choice”. Whilst he was at pains to keep his hand concealed on the subject of a possible referendum on EU membership before 2015, the Prime Minister did say that ‘any vote would happen within five years.’

There was no mention of what form this officially-sanctioned Question would take, nor was there any clear indication as to whether he’d wait until the Government has prevaricated over how to secure some token concessions on sovereignty from Brussels before that would happen. Instead he focussed his energies on defending Britain’s right to be truculent.

It’s an interesting rhetorical trick that Dave uses in this interview, as it neatly glosses over a glaring logical inconsistency. He starts by listing sub-treaties to which the UK does not subscribe, such as the Eurozone and Schengen, and infers an “opt-in” approach to international legislation, which (he implies but deftly avoids stating) gives the UK a certain licence to cherry-pick its own way through the European buffet.

Both the Eurozone and Schengen agreements are opt-in (at least as far as the UK is concerned; let’s not discuss countries applying for EU membership just yet). The UK chooses not to be a part of either, yet by being a member of the EU and ratifying its various treaties it agrees to suffer any potential fallout – be it from common market economic ties or the free movement of the European labour force.

Cameron alleges that the Eurozone states have “got to change [their internal economic policies in an externally concerted effort] to make their currency work” but that this changes “the nature of the organisation to which we belong.” This is like saying that changing (for example) Dutch citizenship eligibility will affect UK immigration beyond our control. In an indirect way, both of these statements may be true, but this nonetheless makes Cameron’s distinction void. The choice in either case is “lump it or leave”, as with many other consequences of treaties we have signed in order to be the constituent member that Cameron so readily champions.

But not opting into Schengen and the Euro enables us to control our own interest rates and external immigration policies, right? So why should we be necessarily tied down on other issues? Because, Dave, these are subsequent undertakings not explicitly covered by the various binding European treaties like Maastricht and Rome that we signed.

Cameron fishing

If we use this premise as a precedent to unpick the unfavourable aspects that happen to underpin the entire European initiative, like the free movement of peoples, or common fisheries policy, why not rethink other treaties? We could rethink the Treaty of Amiens, put the fleur-de-lis back on our royal standard and reclaim northern France! We could decide that too many people are voting the wrong way and revoke universal suffrage!

Yes, I agree; it starts to get a little bit silly, really. And people wonder why other European states see the Coalition as the political equivalent of a petulant three-year-old in a tantrum.