The Tories have just published their draft EU referendum bill. Most of it is fairly meaningless technicalities. But the proposed wording is interesting. The party plans to ask voters:
Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?
Referendum questions are usually a source of tense, if technical political debate. The two things do watch out for are: Read more
It was yesterday afternoon while we were about to board a flight from Andrews Air Base in Washington that the pack of journalists following the prime minister were suddenly told to gather for a briefing.
“You’re going to want to hear this,” said a senior Tory source.
He was not wrong. The breaking news – under embargo for 10pm UK time – was that David Cameron had decided after all to publish draft legislation that would enshrine the 2017 EU referendum in law.
The idea must have seemed a political masterstroke: to nip in the bud the latest uprising of Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers and PPSs (those barely-noticed ministerial bag carriers who occasionally make news by resigning.)
The Cameron team were aware, however, that the story would eclipse the Read more
Nick Clegg. Getty Images
The Tories are having great fun mocking Nick Clegg’s opposition to an EU referendum, pointing out that the Lib Dems went into the last election promising a referendum of their own. The Lib Dems in turn, point out that the wording of their manifesto actually mirrors what the coalition has put into law, namely that there should be:
an in/out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU
But the Lib Dems made a huge issue of it, even walking out of the Commons in 2008 when speaker Michael Martin refused to let the party bring an amendment calling for a referendum. As the guardian’s Nick Watt points out, Nick Clegg said at the time: Read more
Douglas Alexander was touring television studios this morning explaining why he thought holding a referendum on Britain’s EU membership was a bad idea. After months of toying with the idea of copying the Tories in promising an in/out referendum in the next parliament, Labour seems to have finally decided that would be a bad idea.
This uncharacteristic decisiveness gave Ed Miliband a platform from which to attack David Cameron in today’s PMQs, and the Labour leader made the most of it. His first question was meant to embarrass the PM and amuse his own party, and it worked: Read more
Speculation on Labour’s position on an EU referendum has been building for a while. It all started with the arch pro-European, Peter Mandelson, who unexpectedly said on May 3:
I believe a fresh referendum will be necessary because the political parties cannot reconcile their own differences and come to a final conclusion on their own, and nor should they.
He was soon given further credence by the shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who said:
That might be an issue whose time comes.
Although he added: “I don’t think that time is now.”
Two weeks later, Ed Miliband shuffled his top team and placed Jon Cruddas, who has previously called for an in/out vote, in the role of policy chief. That appointment triggered further speculation, which was distilled in an Observer piece on May 19 headlined Ed Miliband set for decision on Europe referendum:
The Observer has been told that, after discussions with shadow cabinet members, Miliband is leaving the door open to a referendum.
A British protester burns an EU flag
Two sources who would know have told members of our political team that the chances of having a referendum on EU membership this parliament are very low indeed.
One ruled it out altogether, the other said the “number one priority” of coalition policy on Europe was not to have one.
David Cameron pretty much guaranteed that today when he said there would only be a referendum “if a new treaty passes powers from UK to Brussels” adding:
As Prime Minister, I do not think the issue will arise.