Monday, April 18, 2016

Why neither side wants the EU referendum to be about the government

Politicians on both the Leave and Remain sides, with the exception of a few old incorrigibles like Ken Clarke, have mostly been making a point of saying that they think David Cameron could remain Prime Minsiter in the event of a "leave" vote.

I don't know whether that is true or not but I think it would be sensible to operate between now and the referendum as though it is, and that this is in the interests of both sides.

The EU referendum is a once-in-a-generation decision which will have considerable consequences for many years. If it produces a "leave" vote Britain will leave and would not be allowed back in the (fairly unlikely) scenario that we should we wish to change our minds.

If there is a "remain" vote, no matter how close, any Brexit supporter with the bizarre idea that it would be a good idea to call for another one any time in the next few decades needs to take a couple of aspirin tablets and go and lie down in a darkened room for a while. Just as Nicola Sturgeon is desperately trying to avoid being trapped by her more overenthusiastic supporters into promising a second Scottish Independence referendum without some very good reason to revisit the vote, no political party with enough realism in its' DNA to be capable of winning a British general election is going to promise another EU membership referendum any time in the next two decades at least.

Therefore this decision is far more important than who forms the government at this point in time.

There is, as  TC points out on Political Betting today, always the possibility with a referendum that people will vote not on the question on the ballot paper but what they think of the government. This has bedevilled a number of referenda on EU related subjects, from the days of "Non a Maastricht, Non a Mitterand" in the 90s to the Netherlands a few days ago ...

But this is very much a double-edged sword which both Brexiteers and Remainders need to beware of. If people start seeing a "Leave" vote as a way to stick up two fingers to David Cameron, that might be quite good for the leave side.

But if people start thinking in terms of

"Vote Leave to replace David Cameron with Michael Gove, Boris Johnson or IDS"

- and let's face it, if DC is forced out following a "Leave" vote, and the referendum continues to damage Boris Johnson's standing in large parts  of the Conservative party, the most likely person to be the next Prime Minister is Michael Gove -

that could be a rather different matter.

Now I like Michael Gove personally and have a lot of respect for his ideas and his principles, and I might well vote for him in the leadership election which would follow. But I don't think the electorate likes him as much as I do. I certainly don't think the wider electorate would prefer any other Conservative, not even Boris Johnson, to David Cameron as PM. Recent polling evidence, taken after the Panama tax scandal, bears that out.

(DC was behind Boris on questions like "which of these people would you rather have a drink with", or "go on holiday with", or "have on your pub quiz team," but he was ahead of Boris or anyone else when the question ended with "look after your money" or "run the country.")

The most appropriate thing, surely, is to focus on the arguments not about who should be PM for the next four years but about whether leaving the EU will be good for Britain or not over the next forty years.


Jim said...

Obection Your honour

"If it produces a "leave" vote Britain will leave and would not be allowed back in the (fairly unlikely) scenario that we should we wish to change our minds"

- this is factually incorrect, well apart from the "(fairly unlikely)" bit - in fact its written into article 50 TEU (clause 5) that we could do so if we changed our minds:

5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

So quite simply the treaty itself tells us, if the UK leaves it can rejoin if it wants to, but it must do so using the same route any other state has to do so.

So the UK would be treated as a None Member State (just like any other None Member state) which makes perfect sense really, because that is exactly what it would be, a State that is not a member of the EU.

Chris Whiteside said...

You are perfectly correct that if we did apply to rejoin the EU's rules would allow for this.

My belief that we would not in practice be allowed back is based on the assumption that one of the other members states would be bound to veto the British application the same way De Gaulle did when Britain first applied to join.

I just cannot see that there would not be at least one of the other 27 member states that would do that.

Jim said...

Actually, (whilst this bit is not as factual as my first bit) I think it very unlikely they would, this is because we would have to rejoin using the procedure in article 49. Meaning no more rebate, no more euro exemption, well no more "any 'red line' you wish to name, but everything they do like. In other worse the full force of the UK economy minus the UK brakes to ever closer union.

are you kidding? its exactly what they would love to see, so much so they would they would be the first to let us do it.

Jim said...

De Gaulle knew that the UK would only ever be a thorn in the side to the "United states of Europe" or "ever closer union" as its now known. It had to be sold to the British people as a trade deal in the first place or they never would have gone for it.

De Gaulle knew this, that is why he objected to us coming in to spoil his grand project. And that Chris is why we never would be offered such red lines again, and that is exactly why we would be welcomed right back.

Chris Whiteside said...

If going back in was only available on those terms I would see Britain as even less likely to apply.

Jim said...

Well, yeah, that's why I totally agreed with the (fairly unlikely) bit.

In line with your lastest post I am not accusing you of dishonesty, I am simply clearing things up, either your understanding of it was wrong (as we could rejoin if we did change our mind, even though the terms by which we would have to make it so unlikely that we ever would, we still COULD) or my reading of what you had written was wrong (its easy to misinterpret the meaning of something)

Its just an important ant point to make, and besides where would any blog be without the voice of an Objection or two to keep it interesting. :-)