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Muddied waters rising

Let me see if I can get this straight – the current state of the EU renegotiation and the UK’s impending referendum on staying in or out is roughly as follows:

We’re legally bound to hold the referendum by 2017 at the latest. Our esteemed PM announced a couple of years ago that he was going to negotiate a series of changes to the UK’s relationship with the EU – ranging from a reaffirmation that Britain will never go down the road of ever-closer union etc., to some detailed and in the scheme of things major revisions to the way we operate under EU rules and regulations – which, if delivered in full, would allow him to recommend to the UK population that we stay in. [The unstated implication being that any failure of Brussels – or anyone else for that matter – to play ball with this wheeze would be that Mr Cameron would then ‘go’ with his natural EU scepticism and recommend us to vote to leave].

Since then we’ve now reached the stage where, possibly even as early as next month, Mr Cameron will secure a deal (whatever it should ultimately happen to contain) which will be hailed by him, the Government and the EU as equating to ‘peace in our time’ because it represents exactly what he always wanted. As a result, he will now be free to recommend to the UK people that we remain in the EU.

In the meantime, within the recent nine months or so whilst said renegotiation process has been going on, the PR squad at Number 10 imposed a Tory statement to be steadfastly regurgitated to the media to the effect: “Of course, until we see what the PM finally ends up with, we cannot respond to questions as to what the position and implications will be if and when the PM doesn‘t get exactly what he wants …”

This, naturally, was a line that both pro-EU Tories and those ‘sitting on the fence at this stage’ (at least officially) were entirely happy to peddle, not least because – as the Number 10 secretariat intended – it bought time for Mr Cameron and the Tory party in terms of keeping everyone on-side and together.

great briitain leaves european union metaphorAnd ‘buying time’ (or should that be ‘running the clock down’ in terms of the run-up to the the date of the EU Referendum?) was terribly important because of Number 10’s supplementary stricture that, in the meantime – i.e. until Mr Cameron’s renegotiation was complete and his deal done – nobody [by which was meant no anti-EU, pro-Brexit, Tory MP or grandee] should or could speak out about its progress in case either such intervention somehow spoil the process and/or constitute unnecessary and indeed damaging speculation.

And thus we beheld the spectacle in the media of endless Tory MPs appearing on political chat shows spewing the “Let’s wait until we see what he actually comes away with …” mantra with varying degrees of enthusiasm right up to ‘through gritted teeth’.

We’ve also had some fun with ‘What he comes away with …” principle because, of course, there are some Tories who’d want to stay in the EU even if there was no renegotiation at all, or indeed even a series of greater UK concessions on sovereignty had made in order to assist the much-fabled rush, fuelled by the EU Establishment’s ambition, to render the EU a single macro-state.

At the other end of the scale we have the ‘pro-Brexit’ Tories who want to quit the EU come what may – irrespective of whether the PM got not only every item on his [never quite made clear] shopping list of demands … and/or indeed many more goodies besides. For them, it wouldn’t matter in the slightest what Mr Cameron returned with, it wouldn’t be enough.

Personally, I suspect that there are few British MPs, or indeed UK people (irrespective of their political persuasion) who are undecided on the EU ‘in or out’ issue and are therefore genuinely waiting to see what Mr Cameron comes up with in his deal.

The EU Referendum question has always boiled down to a simple black and white issue, viz. – ‘In or out? What’s your gut feeling?’ – hasn’t it?

Here’s a link to a worthy contribution to our sum of knowledge on this vexed matter – an article by John Rentoul that appears today on the website of THE INDEPENDENT

Once the starting gun goes for the Referendum – an event which Number 10 is currently doing a great job of delaying until the last possible minute with the transparent intent of buggering up the ‘Out’ campaign – I have little doubt the Government, the EU and all the ‘pro-EU’ supporters will rig things so that, whilst they can spend untold amounts of money to brainwash the UK public with both positive and negative reasons for staying in the EU, the ‘Out’ campaign cannot and will even be tripped up at every turn as to what ‘knocking copy’ it can put out about the EU.

I don’t know about you, but I am getting the very strong impression that, as far as the Referendum goes, neither side of the argument actually gives a hoot about the key debating points and/or any ‘agreed’ information or data which either supports or tends to undermine their arguments.

I’m not a fanatical fan of football, but to me they’re behaving rather like a Premiership club manager who is quite happy to adopt the most boring and unimaginative playing strategy you can think of (to howls of derision from all sides from those who love ‘the beautiful game’ if necessary) just as long as his team wins.

Readers will have appreciated long ago that I am no fan of Mr Cameron because – if he has any principles other than keeping himself at the helm of the Tory party – nobody has any idea what they are and, for me, he just bowls along like a cork of the ocean of events seeking practical solutions to every issue that arises.

Plus, I get suspicious at how often the political spin doctors either trumpet or bury issues once they fade off the front pages of the newspapers.

I’ll give you one example to finish with.

CameronDo you remember when, in October 2014, Mr Cameron strode purposefully up to an EU lectern of some sort in Brussels [I was watching this live on television at the time] and reacted angrily to a sudden EU demand that the UK should pay an extra £1.7 billion (or an additional one-fifth) on top of its £8.6 billion net contribution for the current year that – he intimated – had effectively come out of the blue:

“If people think I am paying that bill on 1 December, they have another think coming – it is not going to happen.”

He went on to say that he was “downright angry”; that the British public would find the “vast” sum “totally unacceptable”; that “It is an unacceptable way for this organisation to work – to suddenly present a bill like this for such a vast sum of money with so little time to pay it”; and that “It is an unacceptable way to treat a country which is one of the biggest contributors to the EU.”

Now, I know that October 2014 is about eighteen months ago now, but can anyone remember the outcome of this row?

I presume Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne and the Government waited for about six months or so in order to establish a ‘cordon sanitaire’ … and then simply paid up said EU demand ‘on the nail’ anyway.

I say that because I’ve never heard a further peep about it since the PM went on television to such riveting effect – and I must admit it was quite fun to watch Mr Cameron, as it would be to watch the Prime Minister of any country, losing his rag and ranting about an organisation it belonged to.

I assume the issue has been long since ‘buried’, like many an unfortunate outcome to a political issue has been, both before and since.

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About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts