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 109.

    HOWEVER the VAST MAJORITY of deregulation happened under Margaret Thatcter"

    The Gov under Mrs T deregulated the stock exchange which was at the time the preserve of an 'old-boy' elite

    They allowed Building Societies to demutualise

    They did NOT relax banking reguations preventing irresponsible lending. That was Brown

    You are plain and simple 100% wrong in what you say

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Mr Cameron was is in the US saying the people of Britain want a referendum on The EU WRONG Mr Cameron wants a referendum to shut his Euro sceptics up in his party and UKIP.
    It is so wrong making our EU membership a referendum issue. To leave would spell disaster for this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Regarding the draft EU referendum bill: if the vote is whether the UK should leave the EU, how may this be affected by the earlier referendum in Scotland should they elect for independence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    No one understands this row because there is nothing to understand, it is purely ideological. None of these "Eurosceptics" set out concrete examples of how the UK is damaged by Europe, or clinically and objectively weigh setbacks - clearly there are some and there is a price to pay in any alliance - against benefits. Only emotional slogans based on a hazy, tribal notion of superiority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Nick wrote:
    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)

    I ask: which Tories do not agree that David Cameron is Prime Minister?

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    So a lot of hot air and nonsense, but no change in govt policy will result.
    We aren't all stupid or lacking memory cells and I don't suppose those running the Eurozone will worry too much about contrived fuss.
    The reckoning will come.

  • Comment number 103.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    AndyC555 @96
    "I skip past most of your posts"
    And it shows!

    What you refer to as 'the banking crisis' has had many usefully distinguishable phases. Even you will concede that some have occurred since May 2010?

    And you will have some memory of deregulations long before May 1997?

    I post for those with ears to hear, and @94 by way of apology, to the French

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Look out - the tories are at it again.

    As unemployment figures go up, tories announce life sentences for police killers

    As criticism of the stagnated economy reaches a frenzy, they spark up a bogus debate on the EU

    Blatant attempts to distract their weak minded followers from the real issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    87. Little_Old_Me
    "What I don't get is why the Tories are even worried about UKIP.....fringe party, fringe interests, looney candidates who just will not survive the scrutiny of being in power."

    Sounds like they are worried about competition! Mind you on that basis other parties ought to be worried as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    fbl @95
    How many times?

    The 'democracy' you would defend (as better than dictatorship etc), is a state of rule by fear & greed, permanently institutionally dominated by corruption, its claims of "equal opportunity" a manifest sham. Real viable democracy needs our enduring equality of 'votes in the market'

    You DO understand, really? You KNOW, don't you, that democracy has NEVER been tried?

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    You might be deceived into thinking that Tory M.P.'s would be reasonably pleased with a government that is taking the welfare state back to the poor law - seemingly with little resistance from the Lib Dems. No, they want more opportunity to relegate employees to the equivalent status in Europe of the Bangladeshi's in Saudi. The British people will smell there's more to this than 'straight' bananas

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.


    New Lab have some blame to tkae for deregulating the financial sector HOWEVER the VAST MAJORITY of deregulation happened under Margaret Thatcter......'ll never understand politics until you leave your tribal loyalty to the Tories to one side & try viewing the world through impartial eyes...!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.


    You are rather desperately and pathetically trying to link the coalition to the banking crisis, which was of course allowed to happen in the UK by lax banking controls Gordon Brown put into place.

    Have you ever considered writing in English rather than doggrel? I skip straight past most of your posts. I save time and miss nothing of worth.

    "Oh dear" sums up all your posts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    91 AFA democracy is the least worst solution for peaceful co-existence. Balanced by rule of law for the liberties of minority groups/individuals. A democratic political settlement is desirable if it enshrines equality of opportunity but absolute equality/absolute liberty cannot co-exist. Attempts to reach them tend to dystopia as does ignoring the majority view on the pragmatic issue of the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    "Oh dear"
    Did it have to be you?
    To speak for 'Little England'

    Our finance-sector - UK with US - caused the global crisis of 2007/8; and from Tory electioneering our Coalition government forced others to follow into threat of deeper austerity, with deeper asymmetry, the destruction of confidence and of prospects for positive restructuring, the social devastation of Europe

    And you crow?

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Oh dear. France has apparently fallen into recession again. Business confidence is low & unemployment a record high.

    And I thought Hollande had promised that taxing the rich and frequent visits to the magic money tree would boost the economy.

    I wonder how this reflects on Miliband's plans to tax the rich and make frequent visits to the magic money tree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    :Put it to the people and let them decide to clear the air.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    fbl @90
    Wishes protection from "mobs & majorities", but distrusts "judges & doctors & elected" because of their "self interest"

    Yet - on chosen issues 'of consent as to HOW we are governed' - advocates referenda, "1 person 1 vote"

    Missing point @86, your point in what you call "self interest", that we self-inflict ruinous Conflict of Interest, from failure to understand & agree Equal Partnership

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    89 AFA - mobs and majorities are not always that good at protecting the civil liberties of minorities - anyone subject to a stalin or hitler show trial would not feel judges are the best guarantee either. A professional body like doctors - too much self interest - elected representatives self interest x 2. 1 person 1 vote on a matter of consent as to how we are governed - no brainer ?.


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