It’s difficult to make predicitons, especially about the future. Nevertheless, I shall attempt to put Today’s Parliamentary vote on whether or not to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, in context.
So… the vote: The Liberal Democrats, the only party to have a manifesto commitment to an in-out referendum, will vote against an in-out referendum. The Government will impose a 3-line whip on MPs, and there will be a significant Tory rebellion – but less than the predictions of the BBC who reckon 75 MPs will rebel, including some junior ministers. The actual rebellion will probably be more like 25 and NOT involve a resignation, the importance of which will therefore be played plausibly down by the Government.
As a result of this, UKIPers and the more Foam-flecked Tories will use the phrase “cast iron Dave” a lot. Ed Miliband’s Labour, given an opportunity to rip the coalition asunder by smashing his MPs through IN FAVOUR of a referendum, won’t; mainly because he lacks the gumption and cojones to do so, and without Labour, there is no hope of an ‘Aye’ vote. Liberal Democrats will please Nobody with their actions, again.
MPs will overwhelmingly NOT vote for a referendum on the EU, but the media will still try to revive the “greatest hits of the 90s” with a re-release of the Tory Splits on Europe story. Tedious Eurobores will write screeds about a missed opportunity and about how “cast Iron” Dave is going native and is really a Europhile in disguise, and how the Tory party isn’t really Tory, but a wet amalgam of social-democracy who aren’t going to change anything. But they do that anyway.
And as a Eurosceptic myself, I don’t really care.
The Eurozone is marching off into the distance. In order to get through the crisis in which they find themselves (mainly as serious as it is because they didn’t recapitalise their banks when they needed to – the UK did) they will need more (a lot more) fiscal union. The Greeks, in return for their bail-out will submit to the complete economic Government of the EU, as eventually will Italy, Spain, Portugal. Ireland seems to be making headway towards reducing its deficit and may get out with continued effort, chastened, but still won’t be able to remain independent. Low corporation tax – that will go, for example. The Eurozone will forge on with “ever closer union”. The rest, will see that perhaps the compromises necessary to get into the Euro aren’t worth the benefits and will resist “ever closer union”, with the UK in the lead of this group.
This leaves the Eurosceptic with a dilemma. Obviously not the kind of frothing ranter who desires a fight with “Europe” for its own sake, but the kind of Eurosceptic who accepts there is some good from the EU, and would rather like to keep things, like the free movement of people or the single market, while avoiding the cost of paying for French farmers to enjoy la vie rustique and somehow sidestepping the shit-storm of regulation from Brussels.
Thanks to the Eurozone crisis, this Europe-light may be on the cards for the Non-Eurozone countries. In any case, I am not persuaded that the middle of the existential crisis is the time to do anything about it. There are short-term costs to withdrawing from the EU. These may be outweighed by benefits later, but when we are running a 10% deficit, now is not the time to take risks. Now is the time to get the UK’s budget balanced, start getting state spending down and deal with the legacy of 13 years of Labour, then, if necessary have a fight with Europe when both economies are recovering.
That said, I struggle to see why Cameron is putting a 3-line whip on when he could let his MPs vote as they wished, but get the result he wants without a fight thanks to the other parties. I suspect a fight with Europe is only really possible with a Tory majority government. Eurosceptics should wait. The intelligent ones on the Tory benches probably will. I predict the rebellion will be a damp squib of 25 or so plus some of Labour’s MPs. The Government will therefore be able to ignore it. Any more than 75 Tory rebels, and the Government has problems.
Let’s see what happens.
If you use the phrase “cast-iron Dave” or variants thereof, your comment will be deleted. It’s not consistent or fair, but my blog, my rules.