If you can believe a word they say – and both Labour and the Tories now have form in reneging on unequivocal promises to hold referenda on EU matters – the Prime Minister this morning promised an ‘in or out’ referendum on EU membership – but only after he has renegotiated the terms of Britain’s membership.
He did not say what would happen if he was unable to negotiate the terms he wants – nor did he specify any detail of the terms he would seek. Both of these omissions leave a lot of manoeuvering room.
The negotiations over the repatriation of some unspecified powers to the UK might be strategically allowed by both sides to potter on from deadlock to deadlock for a considerable time. All the PM has promised is to put the end results of the negotiation to the public vote. He has set no deadline.
All he has said is that if – and this is currently a very big ‘if’ – the Conservative party is elected to power at the next General Election, there will be an early ‘in or out’ referendum on the renegotiated terms of British EU membership – and that this will be by the end of 2017, at the latest.
Mr Cameron’s partner in the current coalition government, Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is describing the Prime Minister’s position as leading to years of uncertainty and likely to impact on jobs.
The Liberal Democrats are long time and unquestioning supporters of EU membership.
No one knows when the major eurozone financial crisis will break – because sooner or later it must – or what its outcome will be when it comes. The years of uncertainty over this and its impact on jobs appear to be a matter of far more profound uncertainty with which the Lib Dem Leader is happy to live.
From now on in
The UK now faces a lively few years.
- There’s the Scottish referendum on an ‘in or out’ of the UK next year, 2014.
- There’ll be the UK General Election in 2015.
- If Scotland voted ‘Yes’ there will be Scottish elections in 2016.
- And if Scotland voted ‘Yes’ we’ll be out of the UK by the end of 2016.
- Then, either all of the UK or the then home nations of England, Wales and Northern Ireland will [possibly] vote on an ‘in or out’ of the EU referendum in 2017.
By that time the 2015 UK Government will be at or coming up to the half way mark of its elected term – and the rest of its period of office will be coloured by the aftermath of the Scottish and EU referenda vote, whichever way either goes.
And if Scotland had voted ‘Yes’ in 2014, there would most probably be a different set of EU negotiations going on in 2017, with the new independent government keen to find alternative shelter.
A few imponderables
Interestingly, no one has uttered a peep on whether, in the event of Scotland voting ‘Yes’ to independence in October 2014, with a two year settlement period to 2016 for the implementation of formal independence – Scots would still be entitled to vote in the 2015 UK General Election?
What would be the electorate for this election in this scenario?
Would there need to be an interim statute to remove the right of Scots to vote in it, pending the finalisation of independence in the following year?
Would Scotland continue to be funded under the Barnett formula, from a hypothetical ‘Yes’ vote in October 2014 to 2016 – or whenever final independence became a statutory fact? [The reason for the caveat here is that qualified opinion, which appears to have practical reason on its side, suggests that a two year settlement period to implementation of independence is hopelessly optimistic.]
Logic suggests that Scotland would have to continue to be funded from Westminster until statutory separation from the UK and independence were enacted as appropriate in both parliaments.
This would mean that Scots remained citizens of the UK during that time and would indeed vote in the 2015 UK General Election.
The possible scenario here is that, before departing, Scotland would leave the UK the legacy of a Labour government that might not have been the case had the vote been held in the already emergent new UK of England, Scotland and Wales.
And that scenario would almost certainly mean no ‘in or out’ EU referendum in 2017.