Tory MP Bernard Jenkin is a good guy, and genuinely wants to do the right thing. It’s just a shame that he’s in the wrong party.
Of course the Tories post-last-Thursday are terrified of the rise and rise of UKIP (we’re on a roll, guys!) And Bernard genuinely wants to claw back powers from Brussels (he still thinks we can). So he’s come up with the idea of a “Mandate Referendum” in this parliament, perhaps as early as next May (Geddit? Alongside the euro-elections!) — and he’s got twenty of his mates to sign up.
The idea is that the question would be, broadly speaking, “Do you agree that the government should negotiate with the EU for the repatriation of powers?”
How should we in UKIP respond? My first instinct is to say NO! We want an In/Out referendum. We don’t want a renegotiation at all, and we don’t believe it can work. It’s just a delaying tactic. The last thing we want to do is to vote to endorse the Tory renegotiation policy, which we know is doomed to failure. So we should call for a boycott, or a NO vote.
But on mature reflection, I think that would be a mistake. First, because we’ve been calling for an EU referendum, and we’ve been castigating Cameron for promising a referendum and failing to deliver. The voters would simply not understand it if, after all that, we should oppose an EU referendum on what they would see, wrongly perhaps, as a technicality or a weasel.
Second, because I would expect such a referendum to be passed by a substantial majority, whatever we do. At a time when we’re in the ascendant, we don’t want to position ourselves as losers on the wrong side of history.
So I think we should do a number of things. First of all, we should make it clear that that we think the government is on the wrong course, and should offer an In/Out referendum. Secondly, we should press for the government (or the Tory Party) to tell us what they will be demanding, and what their red lines are. How can we vote for repatriation of powers if we don’t know which powers? In this way, we raise the bar as high as possible — confident that any concessions Brussels may offer will be nugatory, and the renegotiation will fail
But third, and most important, we want to send a very strong, unified British message to Brussels: “Membership of the EU on today’s terms is just plain unacceptable to the British people”. So we should call for a Yes vote, while making it clear that it’s the wrong question.
Then, when 80% vote yes, we may have negotiated Cameron into a position where a future Conservative government, after a failed renegotiation, is forced to hold an In/Out vote with a NO recommendation. We will have helped to convince the Brussels institutions and politicians that Britain will have to leave, and cannot accept membership on any terms they would agree to. And we will have put huge pressure on any in-coming Labour government not to go along with business-as-usual in the EU.
We know that the average voter doesn’t have too much patience with the small print. It’s an EU referendum, and we’ll have voted against the status quo. That will turn out to be a victory for UKIP, not a victory for the Tories.