Cameron Backs Possibility of EU Referendum.

David Cameron will announce in today’s Sunday Telegraph that he is willing to have a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the European Union at some point in the future. He said that he wanted to make it “absolutely clear about what we really want, what we now have and the best way of getting what is best for Britain”. As he has stated before, he said that he is not in favour of a simple in/out referendum. It would appear from his article that this is at least in part because he would be worried about the consequences of such a vote.  He said that:

An “in” vote… would have profound disadvantages. All further attempts at changing Britain’s relationship with Europe would be met with cries that the British people had already spoken.

This seems to have more to do with not hindering future Tory policy than the fear of leaving the country with less power over its position with Europe. After all, thanks to legislation put forward by the present government, all proposed handovers of power from London to Brussels must seek the approval of the British public. As a party often associated with harbouring euro-sceptical views an “in” vote would provide opposing parties and politicians with what could be a very convincing argument.

Another point worth raising is that this article comes after nearly 100 MPs from the Prime Minister’s own party called for a future referendum on the UK’s position in regard to the EU. It may well be that in the light of increasingly angry responses to  pressures from European bodies on the UK, for example the contentious issue of prisoners voting, Cameron is trying to quell unrest in his own party. It certainly looks that way. On 6th September 2011 Mr Cameron said that he was against an in/out referendum, and called himself a “practical eurosceptic”. BBC political correspondent, Carole Walker, said that the Prime Minister was “opening the door” to the possibility of a referendum and “he says that he believes that there’s far too much Europe, too much bureaucracy, too much legislation… which in his view should be scrapped”. She also commented that this move was likely a ploy to convince backbench MPs that he supported them. (Source BBC).

This seeming popularity gamble, in which Cameron has risked his image and picked a side within his own party, may well cause problems. While the Liberal Democrats have remained in the coalition, despite many of their flagship policies failing, tensions between them and their Tory colleagues have worsened, and this increasingly euro-sceptical stance is not likely to please. The Liberal Democrats believe that Britain should be fully involved in the EU.

Whether or not this push for a referendum on Britain’s stance in the EU is simply a PR stunt by David Cameron in order to keep his party together or not, it will no doubt reopen the divide in public opinion on the EU, and may well worsen the divisions within the coalition itself. I think it would be foolish to predict that this will break up the coalition, but it is one more policy that the Liberal Democrats campaigned against before the general election that they will not be able to vote against in Parliament. As always, keep an eye on the news.

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