Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sir Ivan Rogers on the inside story of how Britain came to leave the EU.

Both Leavers and Remainers will find things of interest in a lecture given by Sir Ivan Rogers, former senior British diplomatic representative to the EU, at Hartford college on 24th November and now available as an article on the Prospect magazine website here.

More to the point, perhaps, so will anyone with an open mind and an interest in learning what happened: Sir Ivan does not claim to be describing the whole story or dispute that there are other important perspectives beside the "insider" one, but he does describe how events in the EU pushed David Cameron from the "time to stop banging on about Europe" position he held when he became Conservative leader to promising the referendum which will take Britain out of the EU. In his words

"I want, in this lecture, to attempt a serious examination of David Cameron’s approach to the question which has bedevilled British politics for two generations.
And, in so doing, to attempt to gain some distance from the political soap opera accounts and from the post referendum hysteria on all sides, and to offer an account of the issues and the politics with which Cameron was grappling, and some insights as to why he took the positions and decisions he did."
Sir Ivan thinks that the measures that the EU was taking to address the Eurozone crisis, and the consequent impact on opinion in the House of Commons of the measures that the EU kept asking Britain to agree to and pass into law left David Cameron very little choice but to adopt the policy positions which he did adopt.

I agree with that, and although a large part of the commentariat have convinced themselves that Cameron's actions were an attempt to manage the internal politics of the Conservative party, there was a lot more to it than that. The contortions that the Labour party is currently going through about whether to appeal to pro-Remain voters or pro-Leave ones demonstrate that they are every bit as badly split at the Conservatives, if not worse, and do not deserve the trust of either group of voters (see forthcoming post later today.)

I believe that from the point when Gordon Brown signed and ratified the Lisbon treaty despite the promise in Labour's 2005 election manifesto to hold a referendum on what had then been called the EU constitution and was more than 90% the same as the eventual Lisbon treaty, it was almost inevitable that at some stage the advocates in most parties of a referendum on British membership of the EU would succeed in getting one. If it had not come about by the route described in Sir Ivan's lecture, it would have happened another way.

David Cameron's attempt to use a referendum both to settle the domestic debate about British membership and to leverage a solution to some of the problems which were bedevilling British relations with the rest of the EU was a highly risky one - and reading Sir Ivan's lecture makes me realise that it was even more risky than I thought at the time - but ignoring the issue would have been worse. Whatever your view about his motives he deserves credit for giving the British people the opportunity to decide the issue.

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