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Friday, June 26, 2015

Is the Tories's EU referendum a sham?

Having gone to the country with a firm pledge to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the European Union and then put the new settlement to the country, you would think that David Cameron would want to ensure that whatever package he succeeds in getting is watertight and binding before asking us to vote on it. Today's Independent though casts doubt on that assumption.

They report that the Prime Minister has admitted that the referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union is likely to take place before the UK's new membership terms have been implemented in a fresh EU treaty.

His officials are insisting that the deal he intends to strike with the EU partners would be “crystal clear” to the public and have “legally binding” guarantees that would amount to an “irreversible lock.” but surely the only way that could happen is if all the parties have put their mark on a treaty document.

Every other country to my knowledge who have held a plebiscite on changes to the European constitution has done so in the form of a treaty ratification. That is because people then know what they are voting for and can be certain that it will not change without further reference to them.

Is it the case that Cameron, in his haste to satisfy the timetable being forced on him by his party's Euro-sceptics, is prepared to gamble on the good will of other countries in the hope that they will stick to their word when it comes to the detailed discussions on the wording of any new treaty?

The danger is that this will become a vote on whether we can trust Cameron to keep his word, whether we have any confidence in his ability to deliver what has been agreed,whether we believe that the European Court of Justice will not unpick the deal and whether the Prime Minister's very limited capital will sustain the agreement with a group of leaders who themselves are subject to the vagaries of the democratic system and who do not have Cameron's or Britain's interests at heart

And even if we swallow all that, it is likely that no treaty could be agreed before 2025, it would have to be ratified by other countries by way of a referendum and that means it would be another Prime Minister, possibly with a different agenda batting for Britain at that time.

If this sounds flaky then that is because it is. If we are going to vote on a new constitutional settlement with the EU then it needs to be a vote on a settled and legally binding package. That means that we must wait for the treaty before going to the polls.
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