Europe - That Tory row 'made simple'


It is clear that some people are finding the current Tory wrangling about Europe hard to follow. So, in the spirit of those beginner's guides, let me see if I can help.

The Conservatives are going to publish draft legislation establishing an EU referendum today. So, does that mean I am going to get a vote on the EU?

No. The Bill is very unlikely to become law because the government won't support it

But I thought the Conservatives were pushing it and the prime minister is a Conservative, isn't he?

He is (although not all of his party agree) but he's not in charge of the government. He has to agree everything with Nick Clegg

So, he's publishing a Bill that won't achieve anything?

Well, he wants to highlight what the Conservatives would do if they were in sole charge

But there's another Commons vote tomorrow - will that mean I get a vote?

No. That's just an amendment to the Queen's Speech regretting that it doesn't include an EU Referendum Bill

Is David Cameron supporting that?

No, don't be silly. He wrote the Queen's Speech so he couldn't vote against it

Is he opposing it then?

Well, no. The Lib Dems are opposing it, his backbenchers are backing it and he and his ministers are abstaining

So, after all this fuss I won't be getting a vote on the EU after all?

You certainly won't be getting one before 2015. It is possible that enough Labour MPs can be found to vote with the Tories to produce a parliamentary majority for a referendum. Even then without government giving time it is very unlikely to become law. It is also possible that those senior Labour figures who think their party should back a referendum - such as Ed Balls and Jon Cruddas - persuade their leader to change his policy. It is unlikely, though, that Ed Miliband will make a U-turn quick enough to put a smile on David Cameron's face

So, what on earth are the Tories playing at?

The Conservatives hope that all this fuss will make you conclude that you will only get an EU referendum if you vote for them at the next election. They are hoping that it will highlight Labour and the Liberal Democrat opposition to giving you a vote.

The prime minister set out his policy towards the EU - renegotiation followed by a referendum by 2017 - in a major speech in January. However, his party was not satisfied with that promise alone so they have demanded a law, or at least an attempt to pass a law, to make it happen. Many Tories loathe Brussels, hate Coalition, distrust their leader and are terrified of UKIP. They have been emboldened by the success of Nigel Farage; the decision of Nigel Lawson to come out in opposition to Britain's continued EU membership; the public confirmation by Michael Gove and Phillip Hammond that they are sympathetic to calls to leave if the EU remains unreformed; and the uncertain response by the Tory leadership to the backbench call to amend the Queen's Speech.

The publishing of a draft bill looks like an exercise in what Mrs Thatcher used to call "followership" not leadership. However, David Cameron is hoping that his party still take the opportunity it provides to spend the next few months united around a parliamentary campaign to give the public a say on Europe rather than to have a debate amongst themselves about whether to get out or stay in and on what terms.

PS note for parliamentary nerds:

The chief whip has told the prime minister that it is not impossible to get a private member's bill passed even without the Lib Dems agreeing to give it government time. A hundred Tory MPs could pass a so-called closure motion to stop the bill being "talked out". Pro referendum Labour MPs such as Keith Vaz and Frank Field could give the Conservatives a majority. There might also be a pro-referendum majority in the House of Lords. However, a senior Commons official told me that the bill would need a government "money resolution" - which would need Lib Dem approval - as a referendum would cost taxpayers' money. The whips insist that by convention the government does not oppose money resolutions on Second Readings. So, in the end it might simply come down to whether there is enough time - there are only 13 days in this parliamentary session for private member's bills and other issues may take precedence - and, of course, the political will of all sides.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

Debates - on or off?

David Cameron says he wants to take part in TV election debates and that he thinks a deal can be done but he's also setting new conditions for taking part.

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Nick


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Please answer this question Nick. If you know half as much as you think you do and top of this can read minds as you appear to do - why are not you a politician as well as a pundit. It worries me that pundits like you seem to think you know all of the answers to our economic woes, the EU but are part of the great British problem per se APATHY if you do not like it then do something other than talk

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The usual incisive comment from Nick cuts through the smoke and mirrors and you can see what Cameron and the Conservatives are up to,
    words without any real meaning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    The clamour on Tory policy will fall away - they support a referendum on the EU in the next parliament - end of. At present the lim debs & Labour are wisely keeping quiet. Very soon the Labour party will be making a great deal of noise about anything at all to avoid telling us all why they oppose a referendum. This will be amusing especially if the BBC get their act together to challenge them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Why not just put the EU in-out question on the next general election ballot paper ??? that way whoever wins or forms a government will know what the people want.
    and remember to include the question every 5 years as we might want to leave right now , but we might want to join again later

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    If Cameron persists in going in all directions at the same time he may well fall apart at the seams...which is not necessarily a bad thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Sorry in 2 that meant to read Conservative Euro sceptics/ rebels

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Cameron in America negotiating a trade deal that would not come into force for ten years and hinges on the fact that the UK is still part of the EU,
    Anyone that thinks Cameron is going to give them a referendum is Deluded, The man is devoid of scruples he has lied before and will do so again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    You can be certain if The EU in all opinion polls was receiving very positive feedback and the vast majority were in favour, UKIP, Conservative Euro would NOT be calling for an in/out referendum.
    They are only interested in one now as we are in recession and it's all too easy to blame The EU, The Euro, immigration for all our woes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    so after all the analysis Nick ,
    A vote for which party is most likely to deliver an EU referendum .


Page 8 of 8



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.