Baroness Warsi seems to specialise in Catch 22 situations. Someone described her recently as “The Conservative Party’s answer to Baroness Ashton”, and they both seem to be struggling a bit.
I have on my desk a letter from an Oliver Wells in her office. It is addressed to a long-time Conservative member and activist angry about Conservative inaction on the EU, and he forwarded it to me. It says, inter alia: “An in/out referendum would be a false choice: it would not give a choice to the mainstream of British opening who want to be in Europe but not run by Europe. But a three-way referendum would be so unclear it’s hard to see how it would resolve anything”.
Frankly I have rarely seen so many egregious errors encompassed in so few words as in Mr. Wells’ remarks. First it is by no means clear that the majority opinion in the UK wants to be “In Europe but run by Europe”. That slogan was brilliant in electoral terms in 1999. But it’s now tired and threadbare and discredited. It’s also ill-defined. If “In Europe” means full membership of the EU, then we’re stuck with the acquis communautaire like all the other members. We are run by Europe whether we like it or not.
The majority view in UKIP is that renegotiation is impossible. I don’t think it’s necessarily impossible, but it would require hugely more guts and gumption than this government possesses. It would also require a threat. “If we don’t get these powers back, we’re going to quit”. Hands up anyone out there who believes that this government — or any Tory-led government — is going to take such a hard line. None? I thought not.
Then Mr. Wells seems to say that the majority of the British people want to stay in the EU. But a number of recent polls suggest otherwise, and given the huge differential turnout we’d expect (those wanting to stay are apathetic and resigned, those wanting out are passionate about it), I think a NO vote is very likely.
But essentially Mr. Wells (and presumably Baroness Warsi behind him) has used a verbal trick to try to explain why we can never have the referendum which the Tory Party, and Brussels, dread. The plain fact is that a huge majority want a referendum and that the question “Do you want Britain to remain in the EU?” is clear and simple. The British people have been promised such a referendum by the three old parties, who are now wriggling desperately to justify their volte face.
The British people demand a referendum on Europe. If the government won’t give them one, then they will use the 2014 Euro-election to make their voice heard, and the old parties won’t like the result.