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Nick Clegg says a Referendum is inevitable......but what sort

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Nick Clegg says a Referendum is inevitable......but what sort

Post  Panda on Wed 15 May - 17:49

'When, not if' – Nick Clegg says an EU referendum is inevitable. But what sort?

By James KirkupPoliticsLast updated: May 15th, 2013
157 CommentsComment on this article

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister
"It's a question of when, not if."
That's Nick Clegg on an EU referendum in the Commons, where Tory MPs lined up to shoot at him over the Lib Dem position on Europe.
Mr Clegg, of course, is refusing to allow Government time for the Conservatives' legislation promising an in/out referendum by 2017.
Instead of having a referendum on an arbitrary date, we should wait for a change in the EU rules, like a new treaty, he said, something the Coalition has already legislated for in the European Union Act 2011.
"We should have a referendum on Europe when the rules change," said Mr Clegg.
But what sort of referendum, exactly? The EU Act provides only for a vote on the proposed rule changes, not on membership.
But it's worth recalling that the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto said this:
The European Union has evolved significantly since the last public vote on membership over thirty years ago. Liberal Democrats therefore remain committed to an in / out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU.
The bold is mine, to denote the vital section of the commitment.
Now, as readers will doubtless know, official Lib Dem policy on Europe is currently being fed through about 27 different parts of the Lib Dem federal policy machinery, and may well change by 2015.
But I wonder… Read that bold section again and consider. David Cameron has promised to fundamentally renegotiate Britain's EU membership, then put his new deal to the people in a referendum. Now, a lot of Tories and Ukip folk dismiss that renegotiation, but you can bet that Mr Cameron would present any new deal as a major change.
The question that surely arises is whether Mr Cameron's new deal meets the Lib Dem standard of a "fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU"?
For all the Coalition sound and fury this week, is it possible that by 2015, there won't actually be much distance between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives on an EU referendum? Equally importantly, how will the Lib Dem position on a referendum look when it's described in Focus leaflets handed out in Tory-leaning seats?
Conservatives are using the referendum-a-rama this week to present themselves as the only party committed to a referendum on Europe in the next Parliament. That claim may not survive the realities of general election campaign.
And if the Lib Dems – whether through cameleonic political positioning or not – manage to present themselves in 2015 as more or less pro-referendum, where will that leave Labour? Does Ed Miliband really want to be the only party leader not committed to some sort of EU vote?
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