Friday, 11 January 2013

Downing Street Dave's Referendum Dilemma.

Friday, 11 January 2013


They say you can’t please everyone, but when the Prime Minster finally makes his eagerly anticipated and allegedly imminent speech on Europe, he’s unlikely to please anyone at all. Too far right for the left, too left for the right, and if he plays it down the middle he becomes his own deputy. And now it seems the latest candidate queuing up to be potentially displeased with the PM, is US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, one Philip H Gordon. Amid the mutinous mumblings from this corner of Europe, Mr Gordon has decreed that if the UK left the EU, the ‘special relationship’ might need counselling.

Whilst simultaneously stressing that “what is in the UK’s interests is up to the UK”, Mr Gordon has affirmed that the Obama administration would “welcome an outward-looking EU with Britain in it”, and, as reported on Sky News, that “referendums have often turned countries inward.” He need not lose much sleep over that, setting aside the sabre-rattling, we are as yet no nearer to holding one.

Some would say that inward looking is not all bad. After September 11th, Blair stood “shoulder to shoulder” with Bush and a great big target rubbed off onto all of us. Now, standing downwind of two foreign wars we couldn’t afford, it might have been better to just send flowers.

With business leaders briefing against anti-EU action, the current rumours rule out a referendum this side of the next election. While that will not quieten the clamour from the Conservative back benches, from the Downing Street direction, the long grass would no doubt look much greener if this political hot potato could be comfortably kicked into it. Although repatriating powers from Brussels is patriotic rhetoric, it’s not a meeting the Prime Minister can have on his own, and no-one else wants to play.
Those Tories tiptoeing towards UKIP might be tempted back to the table if the referendum carrot found its way onto the election manifesto menu. But if the vote went against EU membership, the Prime Minister would be left holding the baby, a hero to those on the hardwood behind him, but persona non grata almost anywhere south of Dover.
The trouble with a referendum, as Mr Cameron might privately concede, is that a large number of those invested with the right to vote, will have no clear comprehension of the potential economic consequences. If given the chance, my kids would vote against eating vegetables, as they don’t like them. Buoyed by bullish resistance to the dictates forced previously upon them, they would feel empowered and vindicated, but soon develop scurvy.

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