Melanie Phillips

14 January 2013

Read Dave’s lips – the result of any EU referendum will be ‘in’ or ‘in’.

Published in: Melanie's blog

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For those Eurosceptics like Dan Hannan who believe that David Cameron has now committed himself to a referendum on whether or not Britain should remain in the EU, such jubilation is surely distinctly premature. Listening to the Prime Minister’s interview on BBC Radio’s Today programme this morning (0810), I had a distinct feeling of déjâ entendu.

It took me right back to Cameron’s promise before the last general election that he would offer the British people a referendum on the EU constitution, which at that time was the particular eurocloud on the horizon. Asked what he would do if the then Labour government signed up to that constitution before the election, Cameron prevaricated and would not provide a clear answer.

Few, however, paid any attention to this and continued instead to intone the mantra that he had promised a referendum on the constitution. Lo and behold, when Gordon Brown signed up the UK to the treaty enshrining the constitution, Cameron promptly declared that his pledge to the British people was vitiated by the fact that the constitution was now a done deal -- and the British people bitterly cried ‘betrayal’, because they hadn’t listened to his actual words (or revealing absence of them).

Now listen to what he actually said on Today this morning. Asked whether he was in favour of referendums, he replied:

‘In some cases. If you are fundamentally changing the relationship between Britain and Europe, then you should be having a referendum... If you had an in/out referendum tomorrow, or very shortly, I don’t think that would be the right answer for the simple reason that it would be giving people a false choice; because right now I think there are a lot of people who say, I would like to be in Europe but I’m not happy with every aspect of the relationship so I would want it changed. This is my view.’

And so the inevitable question was asked: what if that relationship was not in fact changed? If Cameron failed to change it, would he then offer the British people the opportunity to vote on coming out of the EU altogether? And this was the Prime Minister’s equally inevitable answer:

 ‘I’m in favour of our membership, and I’m absolutely optimistic and confident that we can achieve changes in the EU to make sure that Britain feels more comfortable with our relationship with Europe. And I’m confident we can do that.’

Pressed further on what would happen if the EU did not change, he said:

‘It is changing. The single currency is driving a process of change in Europe. So the opportunity to lead those changes and make changes that make Britain more comfortable is absolutely there. A fresh settlement. And fresh consent for that settlement.’

Asked for a third time, he said:

‘I’m confident that we will get the changes that we went; we’ll have a new settlement and then we’ll put that to the British people in a very straightforward way so they can give or not give their consent to the changes.’

So three times he was asked what he would do if he did not succeed in changing the UK’s relationship with the EU; and three times he ducked the question.

It seems to me perfectly clear that if Cameron does manage to wrestle any concessions on the UK’s membership out of the EU, he will use these to spin the referendum as a vote on a new settlement -- even though it is inconceivable that the EU will agree to any significant concessions, and any such ‘new settlement’ will continue to drain away the UK’s ability to govern itself. But if the Prime Minister is totally rebuffed, he will say that the conditions he placed upon this referendum have not been met, and so his promise to hold one is null and void.

Either way, it appears that the British people are not to be asked ‘in a very straightforward way’ whether or not they want to stay in the EU. If they are to be asked anything at all, it is only whether they want the UK to be part of a ‘new settlement’ with the EU. And if Cameron can’t spin it like that with such a loaded and almost certainly unanswerable question, he won’t ask the British people about the EU at all.

In other words, whether or not he delivers a referendum it will be a win/win situation for a politician who has stated that he thinks it would be ‘mad’ for Britain to leave the EU, and will therefore not refrain from manipulating the pressure for a referendum in order to defuse revolt in his own party and head off public anger at the wilful destruction of British sovereignty and national identity that EU membership has wrought -- while ensuring that the UK remains firmly in the EU.

The Europe issue is once again being rigged, as it has been since Britain was lied to and blackmailed into endorsing UK membership of the damn thing nearly four decades ago.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

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Melanie Phillips
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