Cameron in Brussels: the roots of the disaster, and some fallacies

The prime minister’s and his EU colleagues’ proclaimed purpose at the EU summit on Thursday was to save the euro and the eurozone.  There was already broad agreement on how to achieve this.  The plan was however torpedoed, for no discernible reason, by the UK’s veto. For this extraordinary blunder Britain will pay a high price.  By his recklessness, and his shameful failure to stand up to the swivel-eyed europhobes in his own party, Mr Cameron has destroyed Britain’s ability to influence developments in Europe that will profoundly affect every part of our economy; the best hope of recovery for the eurozone; our relations with our closest friends and potential allies in the EU; and any respect that Britain may have enjoyed in Washington and elsewhere in the world as an active and influential member of the European Union, the biggest player in world trade and a second-tier global superpower. Britain relegated to the sidelines of Europe is of precious little interest to anyone.  Our amateurish diplomacy has made us a laughing-stock to our critics and a source of bewilderment to our friends.

There’s no need to repeat here the most obvious paradoxes in these events. These have been extensively discussed in the media since the news of the disaster broke on Friday morning – how Cameron’s demands, crudely presented as his price for not vetoing what the rest of the EU wanted, were suddenly tabled in the early hours of the morning in Brussels on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, without the smallest attempt to forge alliances in advance to ensure that they would receive at least some support;  how our 26 EU partners were totally baffled by the apparent irrelevance and technical nature of our demands, for which they were completely unprepared – our diplomats were forbidden to distribute the texts in advance for fear of leaks;  how our veto achieves no possible purpose in promoting UK interests, since the remaining 26 EU members will go ahead anyway with an inter-governmental pact outside the Lisbon Treaty to forge a eurozone fiscal union, but the UK will now be excluded from the crucial meetings at which the terms of the pact will be hammered out; how LibDem ministers had succeeded in whittling down the UK demands to what they hoped were potentially negotiable, but were appalled to learn at 4am on Friday that because those demands had been virtually ignored, gaining support from not a single EU partner, the prime minister had actually carried out his self-harm threat to veto the eurozone rescue plan as an EU operation;  how the UK veto does precisely nothing to protect the interests of the City of London, but actually weakens the scope for protecting those interests in the coming months and perhaps years.

However, a few features of this sorry saga have not perhaps had the attention they deserve.  For example, —

  • Most of the EU, including the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, wanted a new EU treaty amendment to the Lisbon Treaty to provide for a new régime for the eurozone, imposing fiscal discipline enforceable by the EU’s institutions, including the European Court.  A minority, including the French President Sarkozy, would have preferred an inter-governmental pact outside the Lisbon Treaty, to avoid conferring new powers over member states on the EU Commission and other EU organs; but in a series of informal meetings in the days preceding the summit – meetings from which Britain was excluded because Cameron had pulled the UK Conservative party out of the powerful centre-right European Peoples’ Party grouping in deference to the views of his party Europhobes —  Sarkozy had eventually yielded to Mrs Merkel’s pressures and had agreed to go along with a formal amendment to Lisbon.  Assuming that Cameron and his Conservative colleagues (but probably not the coalition LibDems) would also have preferred the new measures to be installed outside the Lisbon treaties and the EU’s institutions, there should have been scope for a French-British alliance to press for this procedure against the preference of the Germans.  But because of UK failure to participate in the preliminary conversations before the summit, the opportunity for this potential collaboration was passed up.  The UK veto enabled Sarkozy to get what he wanted while enabling him to blame Britain for wrecking the plan in the form preferred by Germany, to which Sarkozy had reluctantly agreed.
  • Cameron didn’t veto a new EU treaty.  There was not at this stage any treaty to veto: it remained to be negotiated.  What Britain vetoed early on Friday was the proposal to set up the new eurozone fiscal union and embody its rules in a new EU treaty.  This forces the rest of the EU, all 26 members, to proceed instead by way of an intergovernmental pact outside the EU treaties.  Britain is threatening to prevent the use of EU resources – the participation of the Commission, the European Central Bank or the European Court of Justice, and their extensive facilities, for the negotiation and establishment of the new eurozone agreement.  If Britain succeeds in this, it will hugely complicate the task of setting up the new fiscal union and establishing its enforcement powers and procedures.  It also greatly reduces the international credibility of the plans for the new régime and market confidence in its chances of success in staving off the collapse of the single currency.  Is that really what Britain wants?  How does it advance UK interests to make the rescue of the eurozone more difficult?
  • Cameron’s demands for ‘safeguards’ to protect the interests of the City, as the price of Britain refraining from vetoing the eurozone rescue plan in an EU treaty, had no direct bearing on that plan.  The main demand was for a UK veto over future EU decisions (‘directives’) affecting the regulation of national financial institutions, directives which under existing EU law are decided by qualified majority voting and thus not subject to a veto.  Cameron was demanding a change in existing EU law, not protection against some hypothetical new provision in the proposed eurozone rescue treaty.  The idea that the 26 other EU governments could be bounced into such a change in existing EU law, irrelevant to the eurozone rescue plan, without prior notice and at 2.30 in the morning, purely to avoid a UK veto of what everyone in the room, ostensibly including Cameron, was there to do, was frankly fatuous.  It was a bizarre attempt at blackmail, in which the blackmailer, failing to get what he wanted by threatening his 26 victims with a blunderbuss, demonstrated that he had not been bluffing by pulling the trigger – and shooting himself in the foot.
  • It has been widely assumed that the protection of City interests demanded by Cameron was intended to prevent the EU from imposing stricter regulation of the UK’s financial institutions than that proposed by the British government.  In fact in several respects, including the relationship between banks’ capitalisation and their loan liabilities, the regulatory measures proposed for UK financial institutions by the British government are stricter and more onerous than anything proposed by the EU.
  • The banking crisis, credit crunch, sovereign debt crisis and threat of euro collapse are all attributable in large part to failings in regulation of financial institutions throughout the western world up to 2008.  That failure is in turn mainly attributable to the impossibility of any one government imposing stricter regulation than others, because of the globalised character of international capital, which can easily move its resources to whichever country has the lightest regulation.  Thus effective regulation can only be exercised by international agreement.  Long before 2008 Gordon Brown had sought to interest the Americans and our EU partners in the possibility of tightening bank regulation on an international basis, but had failed to elicit any response.  Now everyone recognises the need for international collaboration to impose tighter regulation on an international basis if it is to be effective in averting future crises; hence the moves for EU-wide regulations currently in preparation.  Cameron’s demand that these should be made subject to the veto of any one EU government is thus calculated to undermine  the effectiveness of one of the most important weapons in the global armoury against future financial crises.  No wonder he found no takers in Brussels at 2.30am on Friday morning.
  • Tory media and parliamentary spokespersons since Friday, seeking to represent the Cameron veto as a triumph of the British bulldog approach to international diplomacy, have sought to imply, whether in deliberate obfuscation or out of ignorance, that the veto was necessary to prevent the EU from imposing a financial transaction tax (aka Robin Hood or Tobin tax) which would disadvantage the City of London more expensively than any other EU country’s interests, because of the disproportionately large size of the UK’s financial sector.  In fact this is wholly irrelevant to the eurozone rescue plan and the proposed new euro fiscal union which were the subject of the summit.  Taxes may be imposed by the EU on member states only on the basis of unanimity:  so we already have a veto over any proposal to impose a financial transaction tax on us, or on anyone else.
  • Defenders of the Cameron veto have also tried to imply that the strict and enforceable disciplines intended to be imposed on eurozone members would also be imposed on any EU countries outside the eurozone if they signed up in Brussels last week to the proposal for a eurozone fiscal union.  This is simply not true.  It is however true that new rules for fiscal discipline binding on 17 eurozone members of the EU and supported by at least six of the others (and possibly by all nine of the others, excluding Britain) will inevitably have a powerful indirect effect on all future EU policy and decisions.  When the 23, or probably 26, EU members participating in the negotiation of the new eurozone fiscal union and its rules have acquired the habit of consulting and collaborating with each other for that purpose, nothing will stop them agreeing together on other EU matters.  The exclusion of Britain, and only Britain, from this vitally important operation is bound to result in Britain increasingly being presented in future with faits accomplis, done deals already discussed and agreed in other forums from which Mr Cameron has recklessly excluded himself and his country.
  • Apologists for that veto have argued variously that if Cameron had agreed to participate in drawing up a new treaty creating a eurozone fiscal union with enforceable rules, he would have been forced to approve the resulting treaty but unable to get it through the House of Commons.  Alternatively, it is asserted, even if he managed to get it approved by parliament, he would not be able to avoid a referendum on it in which it would almost certainly be rejected, given the generally eurosceptic mood of the country and the power of the populist tabloids.  In fact, however, neither proposition holds water.  Cameron would have no difficulty in securing parliamentary approval for an EU treaty that would be supported by virtually all Labour and LibDem MPs as well as a respectable number of Conservatives.  Having to rely on Labour and LibDem votes for a treaty to which he had signed up would be represented as a humiliation, but so what?  Was it really worth incurring the resentment of virtually the whole of Europe and the silencing of Britain’s voice in the EU for the indefinite future just to avoid a momentary embarrassment in the House of Commons?  As for a referendum, none would have been necessary, since the new treaty would not have entailed any transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels, Britain not being a eurozone member.  The head-banging Europhobes would have screamed blue murder if deprived of a referendum, but they are already doing that anyway, egged on by the eurosceptic action of the the prime minister and scenting the seductive prospect of a referendum, not just on a new treaty, but on UK membership of the EU — which they might actually win.

Such is the price we are all having to pay for a prime minister who lacks the cojones to face down his europhobic followers in parliament and the press.  Indeed, whether they are truly his ‘followers’ is a moot point.  Which are the followers and which the leader — Bill Cash?  Those who meekly tiptoe behind the focus groups, the opinion polls and the prejudices of foreign newspaper proprietors, instead of either leading or ignoring them, are liable to end up in a quicksand.  The missing ingedient in our present discontents is clear, cogent and determined leadership.  The besetting sin of our present political ‘leaders’ is cowardice.  Ed Miliband, are you listening?


10 Responses

  1. Peter Harvey says:

    A splendid post. May I make a few minor comments?
    * While I don’t disagree with your description of Sarkozy’s motivation for preferring an intergovernmental treaty, there is also the point that he is facing an election next year and this approach will give him a faster result. There is also a feeling in Europe that Merkel is dragging her feet in this whole process and that things need to be speeded up anyway. While this format is less tidy than a treaty, it is much faster and easier to implement. It was widely welcomed at the meeting.
    * I am unclear about the financial transfer tax. In the normal way EU taxation agreements require unanimity. Nevertheless, I have read that it can be applied under the proposed arrangement. I think (and I repeat that I am unclear abut this) that the new euro group will be able to apply it to its own banks, i.e. it could be applied to a German bank trading in London.
    * The problems of using the EU institutions are exaggerated, at least in the case of the ECJ. Article 273 of the Lisbon Treaty is clear on the point:
    The Court of Justice shall have jurisdiction in any dispute between Member States which relates to the subject matter of the Treaties if the dispute is submitted to it under a special agreement between the parties.
    This Euro 17+ body will be set up on the same basis as the Schengen Agreement, for which that article was presumably included.
    * Croatia signed its treaty of accession at the summit and will become a member on 1 July next year. At that point there will be 11 non-euro countries. The Croatian PM said that the country will participate fully, meaning that it accepts its treaty obligation to use the euro when it meets the criteria.

    Brian writes: Thank you very much for this, Peter. As between an EU treaty and an accord outside the EU treaties, there seem to me to be valid arguments for both. Even if Sarkozy’s motivation for preferring the latter is primarily or partly electoral (not initself anyway discreditable), it’s also probably true that a non-EU instrument could be worked out and brought into operation much more quickly than a formal amendment to Lisbon, and everyone agrees that action to restore confidence in and stability to the euro is urgent. In the house of commons this afternoon Cameron seemed to express a clear preference for a non-EU agreement, principally (as far as I could tell) because he wanted to keep the whole thing sharply differentiated from the EU, the Commission, etc. in all of which the UK would, he said, continue to play an active part, although even Cameron didn’t have the nerve to suggest that his veto had been cast deliberately to ensure that the new fiscal union would be created in a non-EU agreement. Whether in practice the two will be as sharply divorced from each other as he implied, I very much doubt. It’s hard to believe that 26 out of the 27 EU member states can really be prevented from using some EU resources as they do their work.

    Your point about the European Court and Schengen is well taken. Using it to enforce discipline in the new-style Eurozone fiscal union might stretch the meaning of the word ‘dispute’ a little, and that might be the subject of a challenge by any €-zone country finding itself heavily fined by the Court for some infringement of Mrs Merkel’s stern rules; but since any challenge would presumably be adjudicated by the Court itself, which would have had to accept its own jurisdiction in the first place, the challenge would seem a little unlikely to succeed.

    I’m also intrigued by the question you raise about the possible power of the new grouping to impose taxes or other charges on their own banks’ London operations. I suppose that such charges could be regarded as a matter solely between the national headquarters of the relevant bank and its own national €-zone government: obviously they would not be collected by or paid to the British government. But for all the €-zone countries to impose a tax on their own banks, wherever they had branches or subsidiaries, when non-€-zone countries such as the UK, Switzerland and the US were not imposing any equivalent tax on their own banks, would be to put the €-zone banks at such a disadvantage vis-à-vis the rest, in an internationally competitive environment, that it doesn’t strike me as terribly likely. But I may be wrong. In any case, it looks as if the British government could afford to be rather relaxed about any such threat.

    It’s not only Croatia whose future currency plans will be extremely interesting if and when it joins not only the EU but also, presumably, the group of up to 9 non-€ countries forming, with the €-zone 17, the new group setting up the new fiscal union. Will the 9, later 10, be full members of the fiscal union, accepting its rules, disciplines and potential penalties even though not, or not yet, members of the single € currency union? If so, the exclusion of the UK will be even starker. Hence, no doubt, the refusal of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls today to answer the question whether a Labour prime minister would have signed the accord in Brussels in the early hours of Friday morning. No foreseeable UK government is going to commit itself to joining the euro. No foreseeable UK government, even retaining its own currency, could possibly agree, for example, to submit its budgets for prior approval to either the Commission or some para-Commission set up by the 17+9/10; indeed, it’s very difficult to imagine France doing so, either (for Germany it would presumably be a mere formality!). And what about exchange rates? Would a UK still using sterling but formally a member of the new group, be allowed to devalue sterling against the euro (again) and thus obtain a competitive advantage over the €-zone? These are deep waters, my masters.

    It seems clear already that if the new fiscal union’s membership is to include non-€ as well as € states, and in effect to comprise the entire membership of the EU even though technically outside it, there will have to be wide-ranging special arrangements for the UK (and perhaps also for Ireland and Denmark and possibly others), whichever party or parties are in power at Westminster. Negotiating these will be extremely difficult and controversial, generating much bad blood. What seems quite clear is that trying to bounce the rest of the Union into agreeing to specific special arrangements at 2.30 in the morning of an emergency summit meeting designed to set up an urgent rescue of €-land was almost unbelievably clumsy, insensitive, counter-productive, ill-conceived, and crass. The resulting veto was perhaps even worse. Negotiating special arrangements from outside the group will be simply impossible. Sooner or later Britain will have to creep back into the room — at which point the nominal divorce from the EU treaties and institutions will become a nonsense.

    But if 26 of the 27 EU member states are really going to set up a joint finance ministry, with a joint finance minister empowered to supervise national budgets, insist on observance of rigid rules governing each country’s budget deficits and borrowing, and to impose serious penalties on defaulters, then the EU will have moved decisively towards full integration and in practice, if not in theory, Britain will cease to be a full member of it. I just wonder how public opinion in a wide range of EU countries, including France, is going to be persuaded to support such a radical pooling of sovereignty — or *loss* of national sovereignty, not to mince words. It’s much too early for Europhile Brits to panic.

  2. john miles says:

    For all the rhetoric, the salesmanship, the name-calling and the hot air, the brutal fact remains that the reaction of many of us – perhaps even most of us – is something like, “It now looks a bit more likely than we can get out of Europe at last, and thank God for that.”

    Brian writes: Alas, it’s true that the years of remorseless jingoism and lies about Europe peddled by our cynically vapid tabloids (and some other newspapers that ought to know better) have resulted in widespread misunderstanding in Britain of the European enterprise to which we owe so much and to which we ought to be contributing so much. Our political leaders, especially the Conservative leaders of recent years (apart from John Major) have a lot to answer for, having failed to face down their own know-nothing Eurosceptics and counter the endless anti-European campaigning with their own counter-campaign of public information, explanation and persuasion. However, despite such widespread and ill-conceived Europhobia and Euroscepticism, most opinion polls (until very recently anyway) have indicated a clear majority against Britain leaving the EU. A great many more do of course hanker after a fatuous scenario in which the rest of the Union cheerfully hands back, to Britain alone, much of the sovereignty we have voluntarily agreed to pool with them, making us a half-hearted, semi-detached participant in what, for all its shortcomings, remains easily the most exciting, constructive, innovative, inspiring and optimistic development in my (rather long) lifetime.

  3. Oliver Miles says:

    Since I don’t understand the financial tidal movements which are driving this crisis (and in my arrogance daydream that no one else understands them either) my attention has been fixed on its political significance.

    We are told by critics of the Prime Minister, including you, that we are going to lose “any respect that Britain may have enjoyed in Washington”. I see the problem differently. No longer uncomfortably balanced between loyalty to Europe and loyalty to America we are likely to become a fully fledged American satellite, just at the moment in history when America is more broken-backed than it has ever been before.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Oliver. You may well have a point. Having almost sawn through the branch of the European tree on which we’re perched, we may well fancy that we can enjoy equal advantages by moving across to an American one, only to find that it is rotting away. Of course a lot will depend on who wins next year’s US presidential election. But I don’t see any future American President showing much interest in Britain or British interests if we have become marginalised in Europe: almost our only claim on Washington’s ear is our capacity for affecting what happens in Europe, a priceless asset which Mr Cameron has either carelessly thrown away or at best put at serious risk. The US focus will anyway be mainly on China, India, Russia, the middle east and Latin America, while relying on Germany and perhaps France to make sure that the moderately useful trans-Atlantic alliance with Europe doesn’t wither away.

  4. john miles says:

    “The sovereignty we have voluntarily agreed to pool with them.”

    Who voluntarily agreed to pool this sovereignty with them?
    Quite a few of us, I can’t help feeling, don’t remember voluntarily agreeing to any such thing.

    Brian writes: Our democratically elected government agreed to pool this sovereignty, and successive elected governments have continued to do so. UK membership of the EEC (EC, EU) which always involved some pooling of soveriegnty in the common interest was also endorsed by a majority of two to one in a national referendum. Governments make such decisions on our behalf all the time. If we don’t like them, we can “throw the rascals out”.

  5. Peter Harvey says:

    France could be a problem. The Socialists, who of course have their own electoral agenda, have accused Sarkozy of selling out to, well they don’t quite say les sales boches but we get the message. This has now been transmuted into the views of the Socialist group in the European Parliament yesterday that Merkel is still holding things up by refusing to accept that there must be a proper fiscal union with eurobonds and the ECB as lender of last resort. But she has said again, for the umpteenth time to quote this morning’s Spanish TV news (la enésima vez), that she won’t have it. In this way she is being more Gaulliste than Sarkozy himself. The Spanish PM-elect Mariano Rajoy is doing everything possible to ally himself with Germany so as to ensure that Spain will be on the right side of any future division, but it is still in Spain’s interest to implement the further reforms that I have mentioned. The Germans object to the mutualisation of their debt through eurobonds because they will lose out; but their wealth and surplus is precisely the mirror image of the deficit of the Mediterranean countries, as has been pointed out from Portugal. There lies the basic dividing line. And the German terror of inflation underlies their attitude to the ECB, but Merkel seems unable to grasp that there might be something worse than a little inflation. The only way to be kind to her is to say that she is playing a very long game, ‘building a cathedral’ she says. But whatever her strategy, her tactical outlook is always limited by the next German regional election.
    Of the current non-euro countries, all except the UK and Denmark are obliged to use it. Sweden just doesn’t and has come up with a spurious justification for that, which has been accepted. Denmark has its currency tied to the euro, as it was tied to the DM before that. It could break that tie but that would involve a great act of faith in an independent krona and would only happen in extremis. The others all know which side their bread is buttered. When Hungary did not agree immediately, the Swedish PM tweeted ironically that the UK was going to enter into a close alliance with Hungary. Others saw Hungary and the UK in the same boat. The Hungarian PM immediately denied that he was in that boat. It was just that he would have to consult his parliament.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Peter. I really don’t understand the position of Sarkozy. He was previously reported to have opposed the idea of an EU treaty establishing the eurozone fiscal union on the grounds that it would increase the Commission’s powers at the expense of member governments, but he apparently gave way on this under pressure from Mrs Merkel, before the UK torpedoed the principle of a fiscal union created in an EU treaty. Now he is demanding that the new fiscal union should be even more far-ranging than Mrs Merkel envisages, e.g. in respect of the role of the ECB and eurobonds, as you point out.

    Meanwhile the UK Conservatives seem undecided about whether to stick to Cameron’s original line that the UK veto makes it impossible for the 26 to use any EU resources or institutions for their extra-EU fiscal union treaty. I doubt whether Cameron will succeed in holding the line on this or whether the Commission will acquiesce in a single EU government holding the remaining 26 members to ransom like this.

    I think there will be increasing discussion in the Westminster village in the coming days of how the UK can somehow tiptoe back into the room where the discussions leading to the new fiscal union are going to take place so that we are not excluded but can have an input into these vitally important negotiations, even if we remain unwilling to join the fiscal union ourselves or to accept its rules and disciplines.

  6. Oliver Miles says:

    Our lifetime has also seen an even more innovative example of pooling of sovereignty, placing our armed forces under joint command of NATO and in practice the United States. It’s curious that many of the people in the political and media world who bitterly resent pooling sovereignty in Europe are the ones who insist on continuing to pool it in NATO.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Oliver. You make an excellent point that is rarely recognised. The discussion is always in terms of ‘transferring’ rather than the much more accurate ‘pooling’ of sovereignty

  7. Peter Harvey says:

    Sarkozy’s position is that he wants to get himself re-elected next year. As a Gaulliste he wants l’Europe des patries, a grouping of nation states. That is more or less what we have under Lisbon, with much power in the Council of Ministers. Merkel also looks at things from this perspective though there were differences. Sarkozy initially seemed to want eurobonds and more flexibility for the ECB but in the end he explicitly rejected both. That is why he is accused of ‘abdicating’ to the Germans. I certainly did not mean to say otherwise, as you suggest.
    The Parliament naturally wants more power for itself too, but it is important to recognise that it is an EU-wide body and has a global outlook so what goes on there is different from what the parties get up to in their own countries.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this illuminating further comment, Peter.

  8. ObiterJ says:

    There is one golden rule – KEEP YOUR SEAT AT THE TABLE.
    On my Law and Lawyers (ObiterJ) blog I have recently discussed
    A) whether a referendum would have been needed and
    B)  the “interesting question” of whether the UK could in law have prevented the other member states from conferring additional powers on the EU institutions without UK agreement.
    Whilst not entirely simple, the answer to A would very likely have been NO.  The answer to B would have been that the UK could have done this BUT would not do so for political reasons.  As you have said – there’s no point in making the rescue of the eurozone even more difficult.
    Interestingly, things might have moved a little more Cameron’s way now since the other countries have taken the matter home, analysed the proposals properly and are now asking serious questions.  Watch this space!

    Brian writes: Many thanks you for this extremely pertinent comment. It seems to me extraordinary that your Question B has hardly been addressed in the media and that Mr Cameron’s veto (not of a treaty but of the proposal to have one) was cast without the answer to Question B having been satisfactorily resolved. If the answer to it is No, as seems likely, what was the point of the veto, what was the point of it, and what can it have achieved? Your discussion of this on your own blog at should be compulsory reading.

    However, as you rightly say, events are moving on quite fast, with several EU member governments raising fundamental questions about the Franco-German proposals, the UK’s acceptance of the invitation to participate as an observer in the discussions about the contents of a new treaty, compact or agreement, now scheduled to take place, and the fact that these discussions are clearly planned to take place within the context and institutions of the EU!

    I think the answer to your Question A is already fairly clear: a referendum would be required if, and only if, a new EU treaty were to be agreed by all EU governments (including the UK) and the treaty involved a new sharing of sovereign powers by the UK with the EU; and if, as seems likely, the new treaty now envisaged involved only eurozone countries accepting new EU powers affecting themselves, no referendum in the UK would be required, even if the new treaty were to be an EU treaty (which as matters stand, it can’t be, because of the UK veto; but that position might possibly change). If the new treaty or compact were to be outside the EU and the UK were not to be a signatory to it, obviously the question of a UK referendum could not arise. A referendum would certainly be required if there were to be any proposal put forward by the government of the day for UK withdrawal from the EU, or even for a significant change in the UK’s relationship with the rest of the EU to which the rest of the EU had (improbably) agreed, but the likelihood of either situation is extremely remote. No major party in Britain wants the former, and the latter is most unlikely to win the necessary agreement of the rest of the EU.

  9. john miles says:

    “UK membership of the EEC (EC, EU) which always involved some pooling of soveriegnty in the common interest was also endorsed by a majority of two to one in a national referendum.”
    Quite so.
    I voted for us to stay in, but I don’t seem to remember anything much being said about sovereignty.
    Since then some politicians from all three main parties have created the impression that no more sovereignty will be surrendered without a referendum being held.
    Politicians can always find ingenious reasons for not having a referendum NOW, but everybody knows what the real reason is.
    You blame “Lies about Europe peddled by our cynically vapid tabloids.”
    What lies?
    Chapter and verse?
    You might do better to blame the evangelists of European Union such as Clegg, Ashdown and yourself,
    Why don’t you spell out, in concise, simple langage that swivel-eyed, head-banging Europhobes – like perhaps the majority of your fellow-countrymen – can understand, the pros and cons of us being part of a united Europe?
    Take the economic argument:
    Why don’t you tell us roughly what it costs us per year to be belong?
    And roughly what the benefits of belonging are worth?
    I’ve never seen anyone even try to answer either of these questions.
    As I expect you noticed, footsie went up, and so did the pound against the euro, the day after Mr Cameron’s performance.
    Could mean anything or nothing.

    Brian writes: Your reference to our sovereignty having been “surrendered” reflects the poisonous atmosphere surrounding the whole European project, an atmosphere created by the steady drip, drip of misrepresentation and denigration from the pathological Europhobes in the media and in politics. That which one shares with others has not been “surrendered”.

    The reasons for not having a referendum now (or at any time soon) are that (1) there’s nothing on the agenda to have a referendum on, (2) even if there was a new EU treaty for the UK either to ratify or not ratify (which there isn’t), there is no requirement in law or in any major party’s policy commitments to hold a referendum on an EU treaty unless it entails the sharing of new sovereign powers with the EU, which the possible treaty under discussion would not do, and (3) because of the poisonous atmosphere surrounding all European matters, referred to above, any UK referendum on a new EU treaty in present circumstances is likely to result in its rejection, regardless of the merits of the treaty or the damage to European and UK interests likely to result from a negative vote. We elect our MPs to make these decisions for us according to their, not our, best judgement, and to lead and inform public opinion, not to obey it slavishly even when it’s perverse and misled. If we don’t like what our elected representatives have done in our name, we can try to find a party to vote for at the next election which advocates the opposite course. (Read Burke’s address to the electors of Bristol.) No serious political party advocates UK withdrawal from the EU. If that’s really what you think would be in our short-term, medium-term or long-term interests, you’ll have to vote for UKIP. That says it all.

  10. john miles says:

    “That which one shares with others has not been “surrendered”
    Not necessarily, I agree.
    But if you decide to share something with somebody you can hardly be surprised if you find you’ve surrendered at least something.
    If you were to decide to share your last crust with me, you’d find you’d surrendered at least one or two crumbs, and maybe an hour or two of your life.
    Burke’s address seems to me to have nothing to do with the present question: when, if ever should the referendum some people think they’ve been offered be held?
    Obviously Burke wasn’t a fan of government by referendum, but he doesn’t actually say anything to suggest a referendum could never be a sensible way of sorting out a specific problem.
    One can only speculate, but what in this address makes you think he’d never have agreed to a referendum on votes for women, for example, or fo some restrictions on the slave trade?
    Another view of  MPs is voiced by W Schwenck Gilbert,
    When in that House MPs divide,
    If they’ve a brain and cerebellum, too,
    They’ve got to leave that brain outside
    And vote just as their leaders tell ’em to.
    The recent debate suggests – though of course it doesn’t prove – that WSG has more disciples among today’s MPs than does Edmund Burke.
    Perhaps I’ve been unlucky, but most Europhiles I’ve come across seem to be long on opinion and emotion, short on dull, objective fact.
    Some questions I’d love to know the answers to:
    Who’s told us what lies about Europe?
    What does it cost us per year to be belong?
    What are the benefits of belonging actually worth?
    What’s the truth about hte auditing of the EU’s accounts.
    You haven’t quite converted me to voting UKIP yet – are they all liars too?