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 89.

    'just ask, just trust, the people'

    Your opinion(s) ready? On everything?

    Your certainties? And of course your guarantees?

    And you trust 'the man next-door', the 'mob down the road', on 'everything'?

    Quite sure you wouldn't rather see a doctor, or a judge, or elected leader?

    Taking at face-value: will you endorse rule Of, For, By, the EQUAL People?

    Our representatives in 'same world'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    82 TLG - they will say anything to avoid asking the people.

    The issues are too complex
    The daily mail will fool everyone
    No-one cares about the issue
    No-one wants to leave the EU those that do are loony extremists

    Then they launch into the pros and cons of the issue itself.

    Pathetic really - just ask the people - just trust the people. Yes or no and then move on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    WHat I don't get is why the Tories are even worried about UKIP.....fringe party, fringe interests, looney candidates who just will not usrvive the scrutiny of being in power.....after the CC elections I wondered on these forums how long it'd be before UKIP politicians started resigning in disgace......

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    "Tory row made simple"
    Thanks for the lore

    Made 'even simpler', more about democratic deficit, explaining the accumulation of 'problems' over decades & centuries

    Whether (nature or nurture) 'best', do not 'good' people rise to the top? So "What goes wrong?" Jobs.

    'Simple' truth: income inequality corrupts the top & traps the poor

    The rich import the even poorer, many then trapped & scapegoated

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    This is and has been the elephant in the room for some time now. All the other issues stem from EU membership. A referendum will not stop this debate completely for the outcome will be unacceptable to the loosing side. However it will take it off the top table as the public will have spoken. What is interesting is the reaction from either side. TBC.........

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Mr. Cameron is the only 'leader' offering an EU referendum because the reality is that he has been pushed all the way to this position by the rebels in 'his' Party.

    The 60 or so rebels have delivered this situation, not Mr. Cameron!

    Mr. Cameron is not leading he is following!

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    MOST people Do NOT want to leave the EU......

    Most of those that do do not see Europe as the big issue in our times.....

    .....meanwhile the Tory party engages in petty internal power squabbles when they should be fixing the economy & improving people's living standards..... of a Govt. focussed only on itself......

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Re 77

    Perhaps the most patronising post I've seen for years.

    Do not belittle the electorate. Gordon Brown did that to one lady who was right about immigration and he paid the price. The electorate see what is happening around them. Towns taken over by foreigners, the effect on housing, benefits and availability of work for locals.

    Go door to door canvassing and you will learn something

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    The promise of all things to all people Mr C won't work, just like Mr S north of Hadrians Wall will also find out to his cost! Yes indeed it is gratifying to see the whole lot come tumbling down!

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    The simple answer is that Cameron is afraid to tackle the EU.

    We need to say that the full EU monty, work anywhere, claim anywhere, open borders, federalisation, centralised laws etc must only apply to those in the Eurozone.

    If you are not in the Eurozone, it's a trade agreement - AS SIMPLE AS THAT!

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Whatever the political 'dancing about' might lead one to think, an independent free standing Great Britain is unfortunately now an obvious non starter.
    For an example of what a free standing isolated country looks like try North Korea or if that's a bit too far to the right, Cuba.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    77. Dr Bob Matthews
    "I doubt a vast number of the "electorate" who would vote to come out of the EU haven't got a clue about the EU, its construction, what it supports in all member countries and what are the benefits of being a trading and stable political bloc."

    Yes but the Daily Flail will say "vote no" 'cos the Brussels Bureaucrats refused to "give anything" to Cameron.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    I doubt a vast number of the "electorate" who would vote to come out of the EU haven't got a clue about the EU, its construction, what it supports in all member countries and what are the benefits of being a trading and stable political bloc. The level of political education in the UK is appalling, major projects seem to be decided by mob rule rather than debate. This country is finished!

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Rebels are nonentities seeking their 15 min of fame. They should be ashamed of themselves for harping on about a non-issue when recession remains a very real issue for very many with no light at end of tunnel even in sight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    @71 the antisceptic
    There is equally plenty of misinformation from the left as well. In fact, there's probably more 'what if' scare mongering coming from the left regarding the economy, jobs, being able to access the common market

    The fact is we don't really know what the consequences are good or bad, were all just leaping towards whichever political conclusions suit our agenda

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    "What we want is freedom. Self determination."

    I don't think that is possible any longer unless you are totally isolationist (to be "free" from obligations to others) and self-sufficient (to be "free" of dependency on others)

    We live in a globalised world (for good or ill); the question is how are we going to survive in it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    A recent article by Stephanie Flanders concluded that the arguments for staying in or coming out of the EU didn't really have a clear cut answer. If that is the view of somebody with expertise in the area, how do we expect to get a rational view to a simple yes/no question?

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Just out of interest, what is significant about the Britain of 150 years ago as opposed to the Britain of 100 years ago or the Britain of 50 years ago.

    Are you implying that Eurosceptics are thinking of a Britain preserved in aspic.
    You are wrong.
    What we want is freedom. Self determination. It has nothing do to with Empire or the workshop of the world or anything of the sort.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    At risk of being down rated by all the anti-EU trolls that spend their lives patrolling news websites and abusing anyone who disagrees with them, I just want to say one thing: look at the facts, not the rhetoric. Everything you here from UKIP and the Tory right is a distortion of the facts to fit a world view of Britain that expired 150 years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    This lot make the republicans and democrats look sane and that's hard to swallow


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