Sunday, February 08, 2015

A Referendum on Britain's membership of the EU in 2016 is a farcical idea. But pragmatically it might be a good one!

I am not the most pragmatic of people. During my Shell career I once did a management course which included psychological profiling and I scored what was the lowest score ever on "Pragmatism".(I scored quite well on other things so the P45 was withheld!). I'm not sure that pragmatism is necessarily a virtue anyway. You see what I mean. This by way of an introduction to the thought that as a strong pro-European I should probably, and pragmatically, welcome the idea of an early EU Referendum.

I think the whole idea of a Referendum is bunkum. Other than a misguided attempt to unite the Conservative Party it has no logic to it. The reason for my view that there IS no reason to hold one. There is no new Treaty on the table. No changes to the EU, or Britain's relationship within it, are being proposed that require specific public endorsement. The EU is an organism within which change is a constant, but organic change. Of course it's different from the EC that Britons vote overwhelmingly to stay part of back in 1975. But every change that has taken place since then has happened democratically and Britain has been involved. Notably in the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher successfully negotiated a lower contribution for Britain.

Back to pragmatism. Let's assume that a new Cameron Government of whatever construct wants finally to kill off the Eurosceptics. (It won't, of course, like death and taxes they'll always be with us). He knows that if it is in Britain's interests to stay in the EU and that one way to do this is to launch into apparently substantive discussions with our 27 fellow EU members and come out with a "deal". Our partners will probably and pragmatically agree to this. They want the whole nonsense out of the way as much as we do. This "deal" will have some "hot button" element in it that Cameron can hail and present as a "result". Perhaps over migration (two birds with one stone time). It won't mean a can of beans, but it can be presented as a "Good deal for Britain". You can hear the rhetoric now.

Parliament will endorse the "new deal" comfortably. The payroll vote + Labour + LIbDems+SNP... A comfortable majority defeating the Eurosceptics and the awkward squad. Farage, if he's there, will throw a fit. Carswell will burst his spleen. And a few Tory Right Wing grandees now out of office personally will cry betrayal. But Dave will win. Then the Referendum campaign will have the political Establishment solidly "For". Yes the antis will argue against and they will have plenty of support in the Media. But remember all this will be only a year or so into the new Parliament. Cameron will still be in the afterglow of having upset the odds and stayed in office. This should give him the confidence to marginalise the antis. And the payroll vote will be secure along with ambitious Tory MPs who won't want to damage their prospects of a job by joining the awkward squad.

Pragmatists always justify the means, however uncomfortable, if the ends are better achieved by doing so. If the ends of settling that the UK will stay in the EU for good can best be achieved by the farce of an EU Referendum in 2016, then perhaps I should also conclude its a good idea...


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