What’s the worst that could happen?

So, Dave decided to take the leap.

He’s not getting remarried or anything, although he certainly seems to have divorced himself from his stance from late last year, that giving the British public an in/out vote on Europe was a “false choice”…whatever that is supposed to mean.

After all that, the gauntlet has been thrown. Seemingly emboldened by Holyrood’s acceptance of terms for the Scottish independence referendum set for 2014 (either that, or he is simply taking the only – albeit short-term – face-saving measure left to him by an increasingly belligerent UKIP and ever-audacious backbench Arch-Tories and assorted Eurosceptics) Cameron has decided that now is the time to declare the referendum. Oh wait, no … that’s 2017. IF re-elected. IF he remains Prime Minister. IF otherwise unforeseeable events don’t cause him to Clegg it and issue a retraction with a brief apology over untenable promises…again.

But surely a final referendum is a good thing? Yes…in theory. I’m not saying I think an EU referendum would see as poor a turnout as for A/V (although with voter apathy in the UK still leading the flock of the European disaffected [statistic], who knows). It is, however, in plebiscites such as this that the fringes mobilise. UKIP, a single-interest-group-cum-political-party, was founded with the sole purpose of seeing the UK government put such a referendum to the British people (and it ending in their favour, I am assuming).

Naturally, therefore, UKIP can already chalk this up as an initial win. Eurosceptic-in-Chief Nigel Farage said of Cameron’s decision: “The very fact that we are talking about the possibility of Britain leaving the European Union is Ukip’s biggest victory to date. Even five years ago the thought of this issue being even discussed was an anathema”.

“But what is the worst that could happen?” I was asked the other day. Well, what happens if Scotland opts for independence? The squabbling that would inevitably ensue over who gets what (oil, debt, assets, the family pet, etc.) would last well into 2015 and surely affect the outcome of a general election. Given that all three major parties (I’m giving the Lib Dems the benefit of the doubt here, even if their approval rating places them on a par with UKIP) in Westminster are supporting union, I would find it very hard to believe any of them scoring political points from Scottish secession.

Who would? Reactionary, nationalist, protectionist, conveniently I-told-you-so UKIP. (Or would that be EWIP by that point?) Then what will Dave do?

  1. Chicken out on his pledge for a second referendum? Half of the Conservative grass roots vote UKIP.
  2. Insist on the referendum and bring the issue front and centre? Conservatives look weak next to UKIP, who will still benefit.
  3. Conveniently let the issue fall by the wayside and not bring it up? Every other party will, especially UKIP.

So, however Cam spins it, a lost Scottish vote will cripple him and his party right before the election, and the only benefactors (south of the Wall, at least) will be the far right.

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.