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 149.

    Surely people with a brain are not going to go for this?Just more empty words from the Government to try and pull the wool over the public's eyes.The only good thing about this is that it shows that a vote for labour or the Liberals enslaves us to the EU for ever which will also mean in future THEY will be redundant to requirements,us being rule by the EU only.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Its Business as usual; the Barstards are running the party again
    Dave knows the Downing Street Rose Garden, so wait for the Majoresque announcement. Bone or Cash or Carswell (or Dorries) as the stalking horse?

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Over 100 Conservative backbenchers vote against the government.... Nadine Dorries telling the PM she will run on a joint UKIP ticket....
    Tory grandees openly defying the Prime Minister...

    David Cameron has lost all control of his party.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    snuff 144

    It was a sub-optimal compromise, I agree. Quite a way short of full PR.

    Maybe you think that full PR would have got a 'Yes' vote from our informed and discerning public.

    Not so sure myself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    So many voices and so many opinions, everyone wants their say and everyone has an opinion. The journalists are all over the place, one saying this and one saying another. I do not believe the average person is so gullible that they cannot make up their own mind. The question is who is the majority voice, that is the only question that matters no matter how many differing opinions there are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    @142 Saga
    Rightly so because what was on offer would appear to have made the Party system even more dominant and reduced our representation even further.

    Having demonstrated their wisdom there, perhaps you should give the electorate more chances! ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Well, Nick Robinson does have his own opinion and he is entitled to it. However it is what the country wants that counts and they want a referendum which is being offered, however it can't be offered now because of the Lib Dems so David Cameron is doing exactly the right thing and Labour not giving one at all is not in their favour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    snuff 140

    Well the public were offered a step towards more representative politics (with AV) and they said 'no thanks.'

    And the mechanism by which they turned it down? Why, a referendum (!)

    You couldn't make it up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    What are the Tories playing at?

    Wanting to have their cake and eat it, of course.

    They'd very much like to have the media-whipped populist froth cause people to vote Tory, as it usually does.

    However it's a bit different this time: if they actually delivered on what's stirred, the brighter ones, Rifkind et al, know it'd wreck the country.

    True patriots would ditch Murdoch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    But for this one I'd rather our political leaders decided.
    That would be fine if we had truly representational politics in the UK but 400yrs approx of democracy on & we are still not edging close.

    You know, Saga! Govt of, by & for the people ... ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    BG 138

    "We have to bring back some common sense and encourage family values, a proper sense of justice and make people believe they have a decent chance to build a business or career for themselves. I see leaving the EU as a fantastic opportunity to restore this, because I believe Britain Has Talent."

    (so sayeth the great man)

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    If the 'people' must decide on this fairly important issue, then surely we should have referendums (ii?) on all foreign relationships, treaties, agreements, policies, interventions etc.
    And one on Simon Cowell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    #135 cannot agree with you more streniously.

    let the people decide , and you know what the answer will be

    the UK was asked to join the EEC NOT the Federal EU

    if DC can take us back 2 the EEC then that fine BUT no FEU, in which case we should leave and leave tonite , thus saving tax payer the cost of the referendum

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Excellent summary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    covo 131

    The trouble with a referendum on this particular issue is that it's important and the wrong decision could have negative and far-reaching consequences.

    For something a little less weighty (whether the clocks should go forward in spring, for example, or the design of a new £50 note) then yes, sure, let the people decide.

    But for this one I'd rather our political leaders decided.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    84 Peter of Fife.

    I don't know whether it is deliberate misunderstanding or real puzzlement about the Tories allowing their members to be individuals and vote on their own. David Cameron gave them a 'free' vote a concept unheard of to the left wing. Trust anyone to vote in the country's interest - OH NO NEVER, people vote only in their own interest don't they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    The Tories are giving us grown up politics where it is OK to disagree and everyone is an individual. It's called democracy. The one big problem with Labour is they do not understand or trust this simple concept. They all have sing from the same hymn sheet and so do we the country, when they are in power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    absolute farse. The crazy thing is that the mechanism is already there in the case of a treaty change to hold a referendum. So what on earth are they doing is beyond a poor joke. Perhaps a few Tory backbenchers might like to really say what they specifically dont like about the EU now? rather than talking platitudes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    What on earth, in anyone's language is giving a vote on the EU to the country not desirable. Whats more, David Cameron will probably get his way on the changes to the EU since Angela Merkel is in favour of amendments and David Cameron is on her wavelength. The left can jump up and down but they are on the wrong foot with this one, even Nick Clegg agrees with the referendum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Here we go again .......the Conservatives tearing themselves apart over Europe instead of focussing on what will win the next election; i.e. the economy. UKIP's attractions will fade when it comes to a general election and Cameron's promise to renegotiate and then have a referendum should be good enough. If you don't believe that promise and that matters above all else, then don't vote Conserative


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