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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

An in/out referendum and the dividing lines are drawn

The Conservative Party leader David Cameron has announced, that if a Conservative Government is elected in 2015, they would negotiate a new settlement for Britain in Europe and then hold an in-out referendum to let the British public decide. Mr Cameron said the Conservatives "believe that Britain should remain in Europe, not just selling goods to Europe. But we also know that, with the ongoing Eurozone crisis, Europe is changing fast and that many people feel the EU is heading in a direction they didn’t sign up to. That’s why the Conservative Manifesto for 2015 will commit to negotiating a new settlement for Britain in the European Union and then asking the British people to decide, in an in-out referendum, whether they want to remain in the EU on these new terms or come out. The negotiation of this resettlement and the referendum will take place within the first half of the next Parliament."

The Conservatives coalition partners the Liberal Democrats have strongly criticised the Prime Minister, their leader Nick Clegg has said his priority was to create a stronger economy in a fairer society. "That job is made all the harder if we have years of grinding uncertainty because of an ill-defined and protracted renegotiation of Britain's status within the European Union. That in my view will hit growth and it will hit jobs and that's why in my view it's not in the national interest."
The Former Lib Dem Leaders backed Nick Clegg up. Charles Kennedy saying of Mr Cameron "The PM hasn't answered question number one. Is he putting forward a referendum? He is saying if he is re-elected he will begin a process of renegotiation the outcome of which he does not know but he will put the outcome to a referendum which seem to me as clear as mud quite frankly." Charles Kennedy's successor Sir Menzies Campbell responded to the speech by saying:"This is more about Ukip than it is about the UK. The prime minister's efforts to reconcile his own position with that of his eurosceptic backbenchers leads logically to the position that if he could not get what he wanted out of Europe, he would be willing for the UK to leave. This will hardly commend his approach to those in the EU whose co-operation he requires." The first leader of the Lib Dems Lord Paddy Ashdown said: Mr Cameron has effectively told us that it is his intention to put Britain on a one-way street to leaving Europe.
Labour's Leader Ed Miliband clashed with David Cameron over this issue at Prime Minister's questions asking three times: If the Prime Minister does not achieve what he wants, will he recommend Britain leaves the EU? The Prime Minister did keep on answering with "I will be campaigning for a reformed EU." Which is not what Mr Miliband asked about. The Prime Minister then threw back at Mr Miliband "question is do you want a referendum: I do, does he?" To which Mr Miliband replied "No we don't want an in/out referendum" which delighted the Tory benches. Labour are putting around now that Mr Miliband meant to say "we don't want a referendum now". Although as the Conservatives aren't offering one now that isn't really that important. 
Sticking with Labour for a moment the ghosts of New Labour came back onto the stage. The former Prime Minister Tony Blair piled into the row by saying of Mr Cameron's pledge: To do that at this moment is a worry to any of us who have been through the European mill because right now these other European countries are in a very, very difficult state themselves. I hear what you say about this is a great negotiating tactic. But it reminds me a bit of the Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles, where the sheriff holds a gun to his own head and says at one point, "If you don't do what I want, I'll blow my brains out." You want to watch that one of the 26 don't just say, go ahead. 
Lord Mandelson was out and about shortly after the Prime Minister's speech saying: "It is not a search together in unity with our partners in Europe. Effectively, it's an ultimatum to them with a deadline, with the prime minister not saying he will get the best deal for Britain and then recommend that we stay in because that's in our national interest to do so. He is actually leaving open the option to recommend against the deal he gets and to Britain leaving the European Union altogether. That's quite a major step for a British prime minister to signal. In my view, what he is doing is treating the European Union like a cafeteria service at which you arrive with your own tray and try to leave with what you want. Whether you believe that Mr Cameron's European gamble is a sincere attempt to reform and improve the European Union or a cynical ploy to head off opposition to his leadership in his own party, there is no mistaking he is playing for very high stakes indeed and I do not believe he is going to get what he wants by attempting to put a pistol to the heads of his fellow member states."
The Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett responded to the speech by saying the Green Party stood for: "Three Yeses - yes to a referendum, yes to major EU reform and yes to staying in a reformed Europe". The Green leader said:"'Yes to the EU' does not mean we are content with the union continuing to operate as it has in the past. There is a huge democratic deficit in its functioning, a serious bias towards the interests of neoliberalism and 'the market', and central institutions have been overbuilt. But to achieve those reforms we need to work with fellow EU members, not try to dictate high handedly to them, as David Cameron has done. On 'yes to staying in a reformed Europe', the Green Party believes Great Britain should not abandon the European Union, but instead work from inside to make it into a fair and democratic union rather than just a vehicle for international trade. The European Union is well placed to enact policies on crucial issues such as human and workers' rights, climate change and international crime. It is through EU regulation that our renewable energy targets have been set and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created. European action on air pollution, meanwhile, is forcing the British government to take the issue seriously, and the EU is leading the way on a financial transactions tax while Britain, in the grip of the City, resists." Ms Bennett concluded: "We need to continue to work with our European partners to build strong, locally democratic communities that decide their own way within the framework of minimum standards on workers' and consumer rights, the environment, and on human rights - and which work together to build a more peaceful and sustainable world."
The Prime Minister has had support for his speech, large numbers of Conservatives welcomed the speech - not much of a surprise there. Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: David Cameron is bang on. What most sensible people want is to belong to the single market but to lop off the irritating excrescences of the European Union. We now have a chance to get a great new deal for Britain - that will put the UK at the heart of European trade but that will also allow us to think globally. The future of London is to remain the financial and commercial capital of Europe, to have a unique relationship with America - and to build our growing position as the capital of the Brics and other emerging economies. That is a deal that would be in the interests of Britain and of Europe. If it is put to us in a referendum, I have no doubt that the British people would vote for it. The British people have not been consulted since 1975, and it is high time that they were. As the date for that referendum draws closer, it will be ever clearer that Ed Miliband has made a fatal goof in ruling it out.
Conservative MPs were supportive of the Prime Minister, well known eurosceptic Bill Cash said: On the single market, I think its going to be extremely difficult to be able to achieve the kinds of changes that are needed because we already know that the other member states won't want cherry picking, they don't want any negotiations that are meaningful and in fact, it seems to me very likely that in a very thoughtful speech [Cameron] has set an enormous challenge. He may want to stay in but, if the settlement that he is proposing includes these huge changes, the other member states, will say that we are not interested so much now in the treaty; we will just simply go ahead because we just don't want to get into the negotiations which we are already ruling out. Dominic Raab MP said The prime minister set out a moderate, statesman-like, approach to the Europe question. It rightly focused on a fundamental change in strategic direction rather than tactics. The ball is now in the EU's court. Under this approach, if we get mere crumbs from renegotiation, it would be for the British people to decide in 2017 whether we stay in.
UKIP's Nigel Farage also welcomed the announcement Winning this referendum, if and when it comes, is not going to be an easy thing but I feel that UKIP's real job starts today. For the first time, a British prime minister is at least discussing the fact that leaving is an option. I remember many long, very lonely years in UKIP when, without a friend in the world, we were advocating this point of view. What today means is that in terms of the overall debate, the genie is out of the bottle and from now on the European debate will be taking place on terms that UKIP wants. If Mr Cameron was really serious about renegotiation, then he would invoke article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which is the only mechanism that exists within the treaties to take powers back. If he did that ... I will take him seriously, but really I think all he is trying to do is to kick the can down the road and get UKIP off his back.
In analysis the Tories have clear dividing line between themselves and the Labour party. The Liberal Democrats are the most pro-European of the main parties and Nick Clegg did look glum during Prime Minister's Questions probably because if a hung parliament again in 2015 then this promise from Mr Cameron it will make it more difficult for the Liberal Democrats to continue their Coalition with the Conservatives. Although the Conservatives have been given a gift by Ed Miliband saying no to an in/out referendum. Backbench Conservative Eleanor Laing basically hit the Tory attack line by saying at Prime Minister's Questions; "the people have a choice vote Conservative for a say on the UK's future in the EU - vote Labour for no say". Nigel Farage is looking happy but I think that UKIP's chances of nabbing a Conservative seat at the next election has gone, also should ensure that recent polls are correct for the European elections where UKIP are currently forth.