Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Reckoning on a Referendum

The much-trumpeted speech on Europe by Prime Minister David Cameron takes place on Wednesday and the general view is that Cameron will use the speech to offer a referendum on a re-negotiated treaty of membership AFTER the next General Election.

The Conservative  election campaign message writes itself - if you want a say on Britain's membership of the EU, vote Conservative in 2015.

It's as simple as that and will force Labour and the Liberal Democrats into offering something similar except, of course, they may decide to go for a straightforward in/out vote on Britain's membership of the EU.

Cameron, like every Tory leader since Margaret Thatcher, has had to contend with the running sore of Europe within the Conservative Party. His speech tomorrow has to be seen in that light - it is NOT a grand democratic gesture redolent of statesmanship but a grubby attempt to hold his weakening party together in the face of the challenge from UKIP. In any case, nothing he says will deter the core of UKIP support which is more about immigration and social issues than it is about the issue of Europe.

Indeed, Cameron still has to prove he can get meaningful concessions from the rest of the EU  and it's far from clear the other EU countries are going to play ball. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is looking increasingly likely to be re-elected in the Federal elections this autumn and this will strengthen her hand in preserving the Eurozone which is starting o show signs of life as the British economy continues to falter.

The balance of forces is , in my view, turning against Cameron and this speech represents one of his last cards. He may promise the earth but few will be convinced.

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