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 29.

    What's all this fuss about an EU referendum anyway? The exercise of the Royal prerogative on foreign treaties is the business of parliament, not throwing the responsibility back to the electorate.

    This is a papering over of political party cracks exercise. It violates our constitution and the exercise of representative democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    This is just Cameron's latest attempt to wiggle out of letting citizens have their say regarding Europe, he's lied enough about holding a referendum, now he is setting the scene to be able to say "Well Parliament didn't want it" when challenged to deliver on his so-called 'promise'...

    ... if Cameron said the sun was shining I'd get my umbrella even before looking out the window.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    The more the Conservatives bang on about Europe the more votes they lose.
    Mr Thatcher was thrown out over her Euro sceptic lurch. Mr Major lost to Mr Blair as the electorate were tired of Euro sceptics splitting the party and now the new intake of Euro sceptics are doing the same.
    Time for The Conservatives to select Pro Europeans otherwise they will haemorrhage even more votes. UKIP are laughing

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Great article!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    This has always split the tories, it's their achillies heel and it's the beginning of the end for David Cameron and the coalition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    #21 york1900. I don't see how the coalition could survive a change of Conservative leader. The turkeys won't vote for Christmas. Cameron, Clegg and their respective parties are all bedfellows until 2015, no matter how much they all hate each other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    "Bring in the clowns"

    Now is that UKIP or the conservatives?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Who wants a referendum anyway? The Alternative Vote vote proved that they are a waste of time as campaigning concentrates on nonsense and won't address the real questions involved.

    It's not that I don't want a say in it, but I certainly don't want the entire British public to have one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    David Cameron as another problem coming up The Conservative party conference where he could be replaced if The Conservative party Mps and members push a no confidence vote in him

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I simply cannot understand how it has become the received wisdom that the people deserve a SECOND vote on this one particular issue, when far more pressing matters are decided by MPs in the teeth of fierce opposition from voters.

    On the other hand, the Tories drifting right to defend against UKIP can only work against them in 2015, so it's all to the good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    If you play this one long, politically snooty will weather the noise and the electorate will be left with the tories committed at the next election to a renegotiation successful or not followed by a referendum. I can therefore understand why he is relaxed about it. The labour/lib deb policy dilemma is much greater they risk opposing the peoples right to choose. Next 2-3 weeks will be interesting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Any one who thinks that The Conservatives will give us EU referendum after next election have to think hard and long as we have had this carrot put in front of us before and then they have said the conditions for a vote have not been meet
    The only way anyone who wants a EU referendum needs to see a bill passed in to law now that is binding on all parties for EU referendum after next election

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The tail is wagging the dog! At the last election the Tories could not get an overall majority, because, in spite of apparently moving towards the centre, and intense public dislike of Labour, no one quite trusted them. The result was coalition with the Lib Dems. The right need to remember that. They have no mandate for this obsessive extreme euro scepticism. Cameron needs to stand up to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    14 Ian good point - but will Labour and lib dem promise a referendum - to do so would expose them to a great deal of unwelcoming forensic questioning of their policy on Europe in or out, not do so raises the question of why not ?.

    If they do commit that will be what's called democracy in action - the will of the people.

    If they dont its business as usual - the liberal elite still in charge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Oh,what a mess Cameron is in!.
    He is trying hard to sit on the fence but he will have to fall one way or another soon.No one believes in this governments promises re a EU referendum,because if they were serious we would have one within the next 12 months.He will not "bribe"me into voting Tory just on his "promises"knock UKIP if you will but they are the party of the future,putting Britain first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    What a complete and utter mess Cameron has got himself into!. His initial decision re 2017 made in January is fundamentally flawed on the time and uncertainty issue.All of the "flip-flopping" since the Queens Speech merely makes him look out of touch with his own Party and being "wagged by Farage".
    No gain over Lab/Ld either as all they have to do at GE is promise a referendum in 2017 anyway!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    When are dinosaurs like Tebbitt and Lawson, supported by sentimentalists for a very old Tory view point like Gove and Hammond just retire and leave the modern world to more positive people. As for UKIP - their leader can't even have a proper plane crash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Whilst the EU has problems which need sorting, the pressing issues are the economy, security, and the NHS. This is always the case. The EU rips the Conservatives apart and will put them in opposition for a generation if they are not careful.
    Voters put EU issues way down the agenda. The are being pulled by the nose by UKIP - suckers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Seems pretty simple, really.

    Dave, not strong on political strategy & 'the leader who has changed the Conservative Party' has spent time running around on Libya, Mali & Syria when he should have been sorting out the EU & helping Merkel, Hollande & the new accession countries' leaders find a future for the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    We should remember that if we pull out of the EU it won't be so easy to get back in . This is once in a lifetime decision to leave. So maybe the vote should be on the general election ballot paper and not a party issue.
    That way the incoming government will know what they have to do.


Page 7 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.