Where would Cameron stand if the EU referendum issue was closed down?
One of the most brilliant moves by Tony Blair was his amazing U-turn in April 2004 on having a referendum on the EU constitution. For in one short announcement he completely undermined the Tory campaign for the Euro Election seven weeks hence. The demand for a referendum had been Michael Howard’s device of uniting the Tories on the contentious EU issue.
At a stroke Blair had taken away Howard’s protection and this in many ways helped open the UKIP split. The only problem for Blair was the referendum commitment but, lucky beggar that he was, the French turned it down in May 2005 effectively killing the new constitution stone dead.
Now we don’t have an constitution but a proposed new treaty which provides the same unifying policy for Cameron that Howard thought he was enjoying.
The polls are on the Tories side on this one. YouGov reported on Friday a 58%-17% split on supporting the referendum idea. Cameron will, no doubt, use this as his major theme as he seeks to re-establish his authority at the Tory conference in October.
Unlike most other Tory policies which Gordon Brown has stolen – including the border police last week – the new PM has continued to oppose a referendum and dealt with Cameron’s points on this at the last PMQs by saying “I see we are back to the old agenda”.
But what if Brown himself decided to change his mind and to oppose the Treaty – would that torpedo Tories?
Bruce Anderson raises this possibility in today’s Independent “…Were he to say that, after examining the constitutional text in detail, he finds himself unable to recommend it to Parliament, it would be hard to know whose teeth were grinding the loudest: Nicolas Sarkozy’s, Angela Merkel’s, or the Tory party’s. Shooting the European fox would be much easier than banning fox-hunting. It would also please Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail.”
If Tony got away with it three years ago what’s to say that Gordon is not going to follow suit?