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 129.

    Thanks, Mr. Robinson.
    But I still find the solar flares much more interesting.
    This other business just frightens me. If we do get a vote on EU membership, there's a real risk we'll generate so much hot air the Polar ice caps will melt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    The IPPR get somelike £500_000 from the EU to do "euro" integration research or such stuff , so there is a saving strainght away that could used on the NHS or Schools etc . QED

    lets leave tonite

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    role on 2015

    "ground control" to major Tom - something is up - somthing is wrong

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    ...oh for a Govt. (of whatever colour) to actually get on and sort the economy out..."

    Sums up what's wrong with the country.

    Too many people sitting around whining that someone isn't sorting things out for them instead of getting on and sorting things out for themselves. If we all individually worked harder to make our own lives better, the country would boom

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    The Tories EU row made simple.......

    ...they are, as a party, more interested in their petty internal power squabbles than they are at representing us, the public...'s no wonder Slasher Cameron spends so long out of the country (even more time abroad than Tony Blair used to spend...)...

    ...oh for a Govt. (of whatever colour) to actually get on and sort the economy out...

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    The anti EU fanatics are losing a sense of perspective. In/out we will have to conform with all that nasty legislation they object to, to trade with them. The antis blame the UK's problems on the EU and like teenagers don't accept responsibility.
    Our problems have been caused by light touch regulation of the banks plus a skewed economy with over reliance on finance, the EU hasn't caused this

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    @119. Anon
    That is because we don't live in a democracy. We live in a pseudo democracy where those in power stay in power by lieing to the stupid and giving the vote to the ill-informed who vote for a 'nice smile' or a 'smart suit'. Real democracy requires education and votes on everything. Of course the EU has no benefits to actually sell to us so no 'education' from them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    @20 One could only wish I had been allowed even a first vote on this issue but as a 50 y.o. I never have. I am pretty sure that the First vote you refer to was for staying in a Common Market not for joining a federal superstate. I wonder exactly how long a gap is required before a vote becomes allowable 200 yrs 300 yrs ? or maybe just until after you have a fait accompli like the last one ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    @108. Philip
    Justify yourself! I keep hearing leaving the EU would be a disaster for the UK, but on what grounds?
    Trade would NOT suffer - neither the Americans or the EU would bar us or impose barriers - its against international law and against their own interests.
    We would be cheaper and free from some cost and regulation (e.g. wouldn't abandon our energy sources) so a better place for work

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Its not at all difficult to follow. It is all very simple. The 'establishment' gets a lot out of europe - back handers, cushy jobs etc etc). They want it to continue. They will deny the British people any opportunity to say no - whether it is a labour, conservative or libdem administration. The ONLY way to get out is to vote UKIP.
    The met are buying german water cannon to ensure we behave!

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    In democracies incl here, most things are not decided by referendum because many decisions are uninformed and rash based on knee-jerk reaction rather than fact. If you ask most people in the UK about the EU for 10 seconds, you may be clear where they stand. But if you talk to them for 1 minute about it, even they will realise it is just a reaction, not an informed decision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Yougov poll 44% would vote to leave, 34% would vote to stay, 17 % dont know, 4% wouldnt vote.

    If that is how it stands after the 5 years Europe has just had then I think Europhiles can sleep easily at night. A campaign where the goggle-eyed nature of some of the more ardent Eurosceptics is truly exposed plus say some positive European stuff in the press and hey presto job done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    116-- meant to say ' disingenuous ", Senility rears its ugly head.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    The nonsense that people are not interested in leaving the EU is ingenuous in the extreme, when every single poll shows a clear majority in favour of an in / out referendum now , and a clear majority in favour of leaving the EU as soon as possible without renegotiation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    (The) Who are you?

    "the (euro) sceptic on the Right
    is now the sceptic on the Left
    and the suits have grown sharper overnight"

    As a moderate euro-sceptic I've been overtaken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Sounds like a lot of hot air and gas to me from Cameron, he wants the UKIP vote but doesn't want the UKIP idea, wants to control his party but doesn't want their EU ideas, wants to make a promise but doesn't want it to happen. Going back to gas, I don't thing he's got a fracking idea what he wants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    111 chrisboote
    Ask the public first, before you assume.
    The public time and time again just do not rate The EU as an important issue. This is the essential problem with an in/out EU referendum.
    This issue has dogged the Conservatives for generations so the only way the sceptics and the likes of UKIP can be appeased is to offer a referendum.
    When they lose this they will still bang on & on & on!

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    "plain & simple
    100% wrong"
    Focus on personality blame
    Missing address of 'the problem'

    The 'irresponsible' - in policy, lending, borrowing, advising - are made so in competition, not so much to be 'the best', or for opportunity to be 'the best they can be', but for financial advantage, on the way up or on the way down, all (at all times) on 'the slippery slope': conflict of interest

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    re: 108.Philip

    Actually, you are the one who is wrong
    The British people have said time and again, in poll after poll, that they want a referendum - more anti-EU than pro-EU want one, of course, but that may be because pro-EU people instinctively distrust democracy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    107. Bernard Cooper
    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?
    England Wales and N Ireland vote to leave UK > auto exit from EU (proxy for EU in/out referendum)
    This leaves Scotland as the "UK in the EU". Suits everybody?


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