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Thursday, May 09, 2013

EU referendum: What will the Tory backbench motion actually achieve?

Unlikely to care if her speech is amended - but will anyone else?
Politicians do not as a rule like other politicians amending their speeches especially after they have been delivered. The Queen is not a politician and is usually spared this indignity - but not if one group of (mostly Conservative) MPs have their way. Although, strictly speaking, the MPs have not tried to amend the speech per se, they merely tabled a motion to "express regret" that it did not include legislation for an EU referendum.

This is unlikely to upset the Queen, she will not have had any personal commitment to the political mush written for her by Number 10 (in case any non-UK readers were confused). The amendment states that the House:
"respectfully regrets that an EU referendum bill was not included in the Queen's Speech".
This means that even if passed by a majority of MPs, it wouldn't actually force the Government to table a bill. So what's the point? John Baron, one of the MPs tabling the amendment, said the objective is to show that:
"there is a large body of opinion inside and outside this place that believes that legislation is right for a EU referendum."
This will no doubt make the 'ditch the EU' story run for another week, but the problem for those who genuinely want to legislate for a referendum in this parliament is that even the early referendum enthusiasts all want different things. Tory MPs who have put their names to it have several aims: legislation enshrining Cameron's 2017 referendum, a mandating referendum to enable re-negotiation, or most simply a straight in/out referendum now (though many oppose this on the basis that it would generate an In vote and thereby kill the issue - and any prospects for substantial reform - for a decade or more).

So this vote is unlikely to achieve much since it suffers from a lack of political  focus. It seeks to be all things to all people.

However, this is not to say that from a Tory point of view, there aren't any benefits from such a 'stunt vote' on a referendum of some sort (we've looked at the different options here). It could demonstrate that David Cameron can be trusted to keep his word - no good making a popular promise if people don't believe you. The second attraction for the Conservatives is that in the 2015 general election, they could use the vote both to target specific Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs who vote against, and also as a shield when faced with a buoyant UKIP threat.

But again, the amendment tabled today won't achieve any of that.

There are, however, more clever routes. For the stunt to work, it probably will have to be included in draft legislation that is going somewhere - and with sharper wording. There are two ways. First, a Private Members ballot: this is basically a giant raffle where MPs put in requests for all kinds of stuff. If this is successful, an MP could chose to put forward a referendum, possibly just cutting-and-pasting the draft legislation that the Conservative leadership has promised to publish before the election (but not put to the vote). Absent a successful ballot MP-led legislation has virtually zero chance to succeed. The other way they could achieve a vote is to table an amendment to another EU-related Bill. Here, MPs could be exceptionally creative. There's one coming up:
European Union (Approvals) Bill: will provide Parliamentary approval under the European Union Act 2011 for ministers to vote in favour of various proposals in Brussels: Pericles (anti-euro counterfeiting); Europe for Citizens (EU civic integration); and EU Archives (formalising the depositing of EU documents in an archive).
If the draft legislation is thought to be general enough, it's conceivable that the clerks (who will ultimately decide whether the amendment is allowed) could allow an MP to add an amendment calling for a referendum. There could also be other legislation, such as on the EU budget.

Given that even if passed next week's amendment is non-binding, and that its vagueness allows people to vote in favour for a variety of reasons, we are not sure how much this initiative will actually achieve.


Anonymous said...

I demand a Referendum on the EU. The gamesmanship and brinkmanship around it is severely damaging the fabric of our democracy and is further increasing the democratic deficit.

Cameron is a horrible little weasel and is the worst Tory leader in quite a while.

I despise Cameron for the way he is treating us over this.


Rollo said...

The quislings in Parliament, (those that form a puppet regime to impose the will of an unelected foreign power) are still in a majority. Miliband and Clegeron will urge their followers to continue in the EU. There is no renegotiation, as they know, but no doubt they will be fed some crumbs from their master's table, and fly in from Munich (or somewhere else in Greater Germany) waving a bit of paper and claiming 'peace in our time, great victory' as they continue to give away our freedom. There are a pitiful few MPs with principles, and I doubt if they will win the day.

Anonymous said...

Eu faço votos para que o eleitorado birtãnico diga o sim ao Reino Unido detro da eonomia moderna

Anonymous said...

We must conclude that unless there is brave action in the Conservative backbenchers there is NO CHANCE of a referendum either before the General Election in 2015 or indeed afterwards.

From what we are seeing it is likely there will be a hung parliament again in 2015 and if the LibDems have their way they will enter into coalition with either Conservatives or Labour (depending on the deal). If that is the case we can forget about the demands of the electorate because the UK political elite will never open up a process whereby the electorate of the UK can have a referendum.

Of course if UKIP wins the most seats in the European Parliament elections in 2014, if the momentum continues and all the other political parties continue to refuse a referendum we just might see UKIP Members of the UK parliament holding the balance of power in Westminster.

Now that would focus attention.

People should realise that from what has been said over the last couple of weeks they have only one chance to have their views listened to without misleading statements and that is to vote for UKIP both in 2014 and at the GE in 2015

Wilfred Aspinall

christina speight said...

Open Europe presumably DOES know that it is NOT HMQ's speech but merely government intentions read by her and I'm a bit puzzled as to why so much of rthe article is based on the fiction not the fact.

The point of the motion is that nobody trusts Cameron to deliver a referendum and if he ever did the results would be skewed (a la EU) if he didn't like them. THIS is to put down a clear marker that this HoC demands a referendum - and don't you forget it, Cameron.

NB the trickster has slithered out of the vote himself by finding an excise to go transatlantic.

Rollo and Anon above are quite right

Rik said...

Like the Eurocrats a lot of anti-EU folks seem to think that if they find something hard enough there will be a majority (or a popular platform) for it.
Unfortunately for both of them it doesnot work that way.

It is very clear that of the 3 options(direct exit, as it is, or reneg) only the last one has majority support.

However from there:
-it is clear Cameron has problems closing ranks. He should try to get the initiative in this. Effectively he has only been reacting on other people's moves iso being able to follow his agenda. Probably caused for a large part by the fact that things simply go too slow from his side.
-with the other side so desperate to show their anti-EU colours that they might spoil the endresult in the process. These are not only voters but also MPs (and quite a lot) that are supposed to govern a country. Worrying.

Rik said...

What is clearly lacking is an overall strategy by 'Dave' on this issue.
What I mean is a long term vision how to deal with all important parties (as far as Cameron is concerned) in this issue.
Some of the parties may end up being so similar that they lateron can be put together. Other might in the process split and become 2 from 1.

Which are these parties:
-Conservative party (which can be split in leadership, MPs in general, backbenchers and voters.
-UKip, with a clear distiction into leadership and voters.
-Other UK parties.
-UK Media.
-Major EU countries.
-European media.
-Rest of the world.

What goes well. Cameron has made the reneg (attempt at this stage)
the preferred stategy of the UK voter. Whatever the exit Taliban makes of it. The reneg has been a gamechanger in the way that now unlikely an referendum would end in an OUT if not first a reneg is tried. Both business and voter seems to buy it. In this respect communication to the groups involved have been very successful.

Another point is that several decisionmakers at a European level know that things have changed. Marginal change will likely mean EU-exit. This time it is serious. The EU without the UK will be a club of mainly sorry countries. As not only the UK would leave but also some of the few remaining with dynamics Skandinavians mainly (but also possibly Dutch and Germans)would cooperation/integration at a very low level.
Basically what is missing is integrating these things in the strategy towards the rest and give this simply more attention.

Weak points are keeping the own party together and the relation with the UKip basically its voters.
If voters move IPs leadership becomes irrelevant. Communication with IP leadership should be seen in this light. If you cannot make a deal with the leadership, go for the voters.
Also attacking the other (non-IP) parties (in the nicest posible way of course) on daily changing policies (Labour); democracy/referendum (both) is simply weak.

In this respect. Why not let Cameron basically his backbenchers decide what they want. Within realistic terms of course. Free vote. But under the condition that after that they move all together and there will be a referendum in say 2017. There is simply seen the polls and the seats no room for anything else but the present set up. No other legislation will get approved.
Probably a good start to get them quiet again. They have to get rid of their frustration.
Open up to Labour and LibDem as well. Of course they will reject and subsequently will look undemocratic.

Overall it will not weaken the position in Europe and vis-a-vis IP. Europe will even more than now realise the referenda bear has got out of the cage. And opening up will never be bad for credibility with (potential)IP voters.

Re IP he should make clear he is open for discussion. Which points they want to change with Europe. Yes he understands that they preferably want out tomorrow however in a democracy that is simply not possible. A point not yet made clear (they got 3 aces so it is beyond moronic and try to draw that flush).
If Farange doesnot accept the hand he will really start to look like simply a protest party. Which might be a gamble but Europe shows that strategic voting happens mainly short before elections. But unless Farage goes to 30-40% if the Conservatives are a real alternative he very likely will suffer. It is simply better to have Cameron and a reneg than Mr Ed and and everyday something else. At least for everybody but the Exit-Taliban.

Which brings us on the other reason why people move to IP which is lack of credibility of politics in general and Cameron's Conservatives in particular. Solve this and 'Dave' will win the next election. No funny stuff, traditional Conservative issues. Go for the things people find important (like immigration, cuts in 3rd World aid).

Freedom Lover said...

Unfortunately I am not the current UK Prime Minister, but if I was, this is what I would do NOW. I would try to get Parliament to pass an Act for (i) an immediate Mandate Referendum concerning re-negotiating Britain's membership of the EU, which would also start immediately. Along with the referendum would be details of what issues the UK would want to re-negotiate - this would be a very very full list! At the same time, the Act would require (iii) the UK to invoke the Lisbon Treaty clause which the treaty requires member states that wish to leave the EU to invoke - ie Article 50. Without Article 50 being invoked, the EU will treat the whole matter as a charade. Only when the EU sees this happening, will they’ll know we are serious!

Without these three aspects of any re-negotiation legislation & practice - the mandate referendum, the full list of items to be re-negotiated, & the invoking of Article 50 - successive British governments can continue to deceive the British people, just as Ted Heath (to his eternal disgrace) did in the 1970s.

Martin said...

It strikes me that discussion about a referendum is largely irrelevant.It will only happen if David Cameron gets an overall majority and the probability of that is close to 0.

Conservative backbench posturing seems likely to reduce his chances of an overall majority not increase them.

Average Englishman said...

I believe that Rollo, Anon and Christina are correct but I think Rik, you must be thinking of a different country. This has now gone well beyond detailed political gamesmanship. Let's get real here.
* Dave's talk of renegotiation is huff and puff. The EU will not agree to any meaningful release of powers back to the UK unless the UK is about to leave and probably not even then; AND DAVE KNOWS IT.
* More and more UK people are understanding that the above point is true and therefore, Dave has no credibility with his back benchers or the electorate, whilst he adopts a stance of 'wait for my heroic renegotiation of a new super deal', (that will not happen).
* The politics of UKIP gain more status on a daily basis courtesy of ex chancellors, current cabinet ministers et al. A sea change has taken place and UKIP's momentum is gathering pace.
* If a referendum is not called now and is stalled by Dave until 'after the next election sometime never' and is then delayed further because of a Lib/Lab pact or whever, this will not only delay a UK departure from the EU but make it even more inevitable than it is now. The people of the UK are not happy with the EU status quo and no-one in the EU is going to permit a change for the better. The longer that a referendum is delayed the more the certain that it will result in a UK exit.
* If Dave had any sense he'd call a referendum now and fight it hard as the Eurofile he is and he might even win a reprieve. The longer he delays the more likely the UK will leave.
* When the UK people have decided to go no amount of paperwork will stop them going.
Oh and please Rik, no more Taliban jibes for those of us who believe in democracy; the name just means 'student' anyway.

Denis Cooper said...

Freedom Lover -

If the government invoked Article 50 then that would be fine with me, because I'm absolutely sure that I want us out of the EU.

I don't believe for one moment that it would be possible to negotiate continued membership of the EU on terms which I would find acceptable.

But it's important to be clear that Article 50 is not to be invoked unless you are absolutely sure that you want to leave; once the notice stating the intention to leave had been delivered, there would be no way back from that without the consent of all the other EU member states.

And it is especially important to
understand that the UK could not use Article 50 to negotiate new treaty terms for after it had left the EU and then change its mind and decide to stay in the EU on those new terms.

The best that could be hoped for would be all the other EU member states agreeing that the UK could rescind its notice and stay in the EU on its existing terms, while there would be a real possibility of some other member states insisting on a price for allowing the UK to change its mind, for example that we would have to relinquish all of our present EU treaty "opt-outs".

Anonymous said...

Open Europe has cottonesd on to the sea change going on.. It (today) misrepresents the mounting tally of senior Conservatives and their attitude. Gove and Hammond do NOT support Cameren's attitude and it is hard to think of whom Cameron might be thinking when ge suggests that most ministers "Every Conservative Cabinet minister is confident we will be able to deliver" a renegotiated EU deal for the UK" That's pure fantasy land.

OE goes on about "liberalisation of the EU’s services markets" but I'll let you into a secret - that doesn't wash any more!. The Archbishop of Toledo had it right today when he said social ordere wiull break down. The people of Europe have finally seen the monster for what it is and we want OUT.

Rik said...

The exit camp has 2 main difficulties.
1. It is hard to see how in this stadium they will get a meaningful referendum through parliament; and
2. Will get it past the voters after that.

All polls look about 20-25% exit, 20-25% unconditional stay; 40% (or even more) want first a reneg.
It is completely unlikely that the 40% or even big parts thereof will join the exit camp at least at this stage. They will probably if a reneg turns out bad, but not now.

So whatever your personal views are a referendum now on IN-OUT is going to change nothing. It could even rubbish the possibility for one later.
That is what was meant with Taliban, people with no democratic majority thinking their view should prevail. The UK population wants a reneg it is as simple as that. Same with the majority of politics, they also want a reneg first (if there is a majority for a referendum already).

Next to the technical problem that referendum should basically be yes or no. Not yes or no, or maybe if. Technically you have no majority for anything if you give 3 (or 4)possibilities.

And next to the other political issue that if Cameron is not reelected at this stage it looks unlikely there will be any referendum at all. And infighting in the referendum camp only serves the non-referendum camp at the moment.

My point is that by having the desillusion that an referendum could be arranged now and would result in an OUT, they are effectively lowering the chances of an OUT vote at all (say in 2017).

What would be possible/realistic:
-Make it even more unlikely that Cameron backs off. Clear credibility is a big issue. However you have to bear in mind. He will never be replaced by a Farage-clone. Unlikely that policy will change drastically if Cameron goes. Boris will most likely take over (as I see it the only realistic candidate with longer term perspective and the possibility to win the next election), but he will do more or less the same as Cameron. His PR towards UKip is however much better and he doesnot carry that much credibility history on the issue. A Farage-clone would likely split the party in the other direction. Maybe not direct but it will rubbish the next election as well. There are 2 groups and anyway people vote less likely for a party in civil war (do not understand the policies that will be followed (nobody does) and hardly anybody want a party associated with negativity (fighting).
-Push Cameron to start earlier (the invent takes too much time). The sooner you know more or less the outcome of a reneg the earlier a referendum takes place. However anyway before the next election looks totally unlikely. Too complex even if you start now.
-Other parties have to give support for a in-out referendum. If political pressure was directed towards the other parties iso aginast mainly against Cameron they might be forced to go a referendum as well. If that happens you can do something earlier otherwise not (at least when you want to have some results).
-Even having Cameron replaced might be realistic. However as said earlier hard to see how it could be by a Farage clone and still have a reasonable success on getting an IN-OUT referendum at all.

What I mean is strategically a complete miss with the Exit camp is the fact that the strategy seems nearly totally based on illusions and not on getting the best possible realistic result. And in the process creating a lot of uncertainty for business. And likely rubbishing the chances for any positive outcome (in their own view at least, be it a structural reneg or a IN-OUT referendum at all or an OUT).
This way of operating also looks in that respect pretty Talibanesque. Nobody seriously thinks the Taliban will get the state they want at the end and for longer term. What will happen is that it will remain a mess for everybody involved for decades to come. To be honest I see clear similarities.

Anonymous said...

Rik - if a meaningful return of powers isn't possible, one credible poll puts the majority for withdrawal at over 2-1.

Labour didn't try to repatriate any powers in 1974-5 as they would have been shown up. It would appear to be against EU/EC law.

I think that the vast majority of voters would lose any reservations on EU withdrawal if it could be shown that free trade could be preserved.

It is actually provided for in the Lisbon Treaty, whereby non-EU countries are offered freedom on trade and FDI, not to mention friendly cooperation.

Rik said...

@Anonymus 1.13
Lisbon treaty is completely worthless in this respect I am afraid. It is simply not detailed enough and cannot properly be enforced. Just ask yourself: why does China/India donot go for it at the moment?

I think the polls give a clear indication that at present the only alternative with a majority is a reneg.
It looks clear as well if no structural reneg deal can be done that an OUT would be the most likely result.
The questions (at least the ones I have seen) were more starting from a reneg. As that looks from a practical point of view the by far most likely scenario (and not an exit with a freetradezone).

You bring in a fourth alternative with that. One that looks in its final result rather similar to a substantial reneg.
Seen the fact that the UK is in the EU at present and any exit is highly complicated especially legally. Questions like will a free-trade or in fact any trade agreement concluded by the EU still be applicable for the UK after it has left (most probably it will not).
Your option is several times more complicated than a reneg. And carries with it a lot of uncertainties.
Reason I think that at the end the UK public rather prefer less uncertainty and most likely a quicker result. It is simply not a one paragraph treaty. It is more like a book anyway and even more if you have to unwind the present union in its relation vis-a-vis the UK as well.

Probably it was the preferred scenario if the relation had to be started from the drawing board. And possibly a intermediate step if the reneg turns out to be too difficult. You start however from a stressed complicated relation.

Anyway. The UKs main trading partner is likely to be and remain the EU. Whether you like it or not. Proximity is the main factor here.
Also in that respect a revised more modern, free trade, less French/Garlic/Olive oil, EU would probably a huge plus for the UK. Its main market would be more open and likely larger anyway (if the 'successful' French policies are not further adopted or even better are kicked out). You are far more likely to achieve that by a reneg than an exit.

Please note as well that opening a 4th alternative makes a referendum considerbly more complicated and likely will postpone it further. 2017 or so is already absurd in fact. Especially since you alternative requires long term negotiations as well (like the reneg and via the art. 50 road). Unlikely the EU will start with 2 paralles negos when cherrypicking is already a sensitive issue. Cameron took the reneg road, which as stated looks also by far the most realistic (of the compromise solution).

You assume probably that your alternative is easier. In practice it simply most likely is not. At least not if you donot want to end up with all sorts of loose ends. Like in my earlier example for all trade (related) agreements between the EU and third countries solutions would have to be found. Some might be in such a treaty but often it will be not. These are 100s of legal relations that have to be renegotiated. If it is not otherwise possible then it should be so, but it is definitely no easier option.