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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Once again the old tories worried about keeping their seats at next Gen Election.They don't care about the likes of us they will promise you anything to retain the status quo,pandering to the masses distrust of anything European.Our problem is the tories fear of Europe,they would like to get rid of everything that protects us.UKIP be careful of what you wish for,EXTREME RIGHT WINGERS.BNP R.I.P.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    after reading about the conservative party divided over Europe 90s again
    one difference ukip and the fact new more powder can go to eu without referendum. But there one issue France thy will block any change why French farmers and the common policy that will force us to leave Brussels want change because of France owe political classes don't really want to leave thy want to do a Kinnock.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Well Nick - that was quite an explanation on how to achieve the square root of an egg!
    DC Smoke and mirrors, utter contempt for the "British People" simply not listening.
    Is this the sort of things that ETON teaches? or is that where the real power of the UK Politics lies?
    Are they "Groomed" to have such arrogance over the very people that they represent - no wonder Tory MP's are in a spin!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    45.Ed Millicent

    "The practical way forward is to seek to get the optimum deal from EU partners"

    Waste of time! They are obsessed with integration.

    The practical way forward is to leave the "EU" as soon as possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Could I just point out who said we had to leave the EU, that immigration was out of control, and that he was only making sure there was an honest debate and British people had their say: Enoch Powell. It's time that UKIP and its hangers-on in the Tory party, the Sun and the Mail were recognized as what they are, Powellites. I thought we'd got beyond all that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Well I think enough people will vote UKIP in 2015 as a referendum so that really is our referendum as long as people wake up to it! The game is up for not giving us our right to vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Now that referenda are all the craze, I would like to ask if Mr Cameron might consider a referendum on Trident??

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    20. Tim

    A SECOND vote? This would not be a second vote because it is on a different subject. The first was on the Common Market which is a different kettle of fish.

    And would this be a SECOND vote like the Irish were forced to have recently when "no" wasn't good enough?

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Too little, too late.

    It is quite clear that the Tories our out of touch with the country. They tolerate Ken Clarke as an MP.

    There is no point in voting Tory.

    You can trust UKIP. You can't trust the Tories.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    As an American, may I make a request and ask that we swop scandles? You take the IRS-Citizens United and Department of Justice apparently having wire-tapped 20 employees of the Associated Press in exchange for the quandary over Europe? LOL

    Seriously though, this scandle seems like a tempist in a tea pot by comparison. You'll figure it out. Us? I'm less certain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Philip #12: "Voters put EU issues way down the agenda. They (Conservatives) are being pulled by the nose by UKIP - suckers!"

    It's a tough balanceing act, indeed. However, if UKIP is so extreme, why did they defy even expectations for traditional bi-election years with low turn out and win more of the vote than projected? There must be something there that some are not seeing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Why do the Lab/ Lib/Dem left think that the British people do not have a right to vote on their relationship with Europe ? Is it perhaps because in their psyche, both these parties are still so mired in the dogma of their idealistic socialist birthplace that they , like Europe do not want any hint of democracy to derail their dream of a socialist state run utopia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    55 Gary - sad that you seem to trust neither to democracy nor the people.
    I'm sure you are much too sophisticated to fall for sound bites and political spin. So am I. Guess what there about 60 million like us in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Pompey41 #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."

    What directions are they? As far as I am aware he has, thus far at least, stuck with his original position of negotiation followed by a referendum.

    Now, that appears to some as bribery, but that's a different issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    This notion of 'letting the people decide' is total nonsense. It is impossible to get an impartial view of what memberships means to this country, either way. Instead, the 'majority' will be led by biased views in their chosen media outlet and political spin. Unfortunately, the line 'coming over here, stealing jobs and benefits' doesn't get to the heart of the debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    52 OTM I like Europe a lot just don't wish to be a member of the EU. If there was a political party that regularly won 25% + of the vote on the issue of Nato withdrawal and 50% + of the electorate were regularly in favour of withdrawal then the issues might be comparable. In such a case I wouldn't oppose a referendum but its still not a constitutional matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    49 OTM thats a treaty obligation for collective security freely entered into not a sovereign power to make laws - you do understand the difference ?

    No matter how many characters you have you will not find one example in the organisations you have quoted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    48. feedbackloop
    "the examples you quote are rather different to EU for the simple reason that they have no legislative power over us."

    "Legislative power" is true, but that is subject to C of Ministers, Euro-parliament and ultimately/theoretically HoC ratification
    UN & NATO obligations not subject to such scrutiny
    Therefore surely we should have a regular say! (?)
    Or is Europe hating different?

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    So, in summary, this is a Conservative sleight of hand; sophistry; rhetoric - in fact more of the same, ultimately vacuous and inconsequential policies which actually hide a multitude of sins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    43 OTM - the press view on EU is varies but the BBC are more influential and have been pro european for decades. It is only UKIPs opinion poll support that has finally prodded this cosmopolitan elite to recognise that the political ground has shifted and even now they are more interested in Tory contradictions than roasting the lib dems/Labour on their opposition to asking the people to decide.


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