Increasingly there is speculation that the EU referendum may come earlier that 2017.
I was surprised that the revelation that the Bank of England has been ‘war-gaming’ scenarios arising from a vote to withdraw from the EU, made headline news. The only remarkable thing about it was that it was ever considered as a matter for secrecy.
As to how plausible these scenarios are, that is another matter entirely. Recent polling indicates that those wishing to remain in the EU are significantly ahead. I am a veteran on the ‘No’ campaign of 1975. I recall having a two to one lead in the polls for withdrawal, yet still losing that referendum. It is still very early days but I just do not detect the great groundswell that would be required to sustain a successful campaign to withdraw, in the face of what will be a well-funded and determined effort on the part of business and corporate interests to ensure that we remain.
During the recent election campaign I was asked at the hustings how I would vote in the referendum this time around. I replied that it is too soon to tell. I remain as hostile to the EU as I was to the concept offered to us back in 1975. I do believe however, that David Cameron has earned the right to be trusted with a renegotiation. After all, he is the only British Prime Minister ever to veto an EU treaty, ever to secure a reduction in the EU budget, and ever to bring back powers previously given away to Brussels. His record is a very good one.
Do I have any ‘red lines’ which will determine my referendum vote one way of the other?
I would certainly want to be shot of ‘ever closer Union’ from the original Treaty of Rome. Beyond that, the things which I dislike most about the Union are not the subject of renegotiation. For example, it is the institutions of statehood like the parliament which I regard as illegitimate. I want a Europe of nation states co-operating together, and not a Europe claiming to be a state in its own right. A parliament represents a people, and I just do not believe in a European people, rather the peoples of Europe have their own parliaments to represent them.
Counterintuitively, one of the things I like most about the EU is the principle of freedom of movement, and it is something that 1 million Britons have taken advantage of. I certainly don’t believe however, that it extends to a right to claim social security benefits anywhere in Europe.
Ultimately, this referendum, like the Great Charter of the eighteenth century, is a “knife and fork question, a bread and cheese question”: I believe that the outcome will come down to the issue of jobs; people will decide on the basis of how they think it will impact on their prosperity.
My own belief is that in the long term our prosperity depends upon our competitiveness, and my prejudice is that our competitiveness in international markets may be increasingly compromised by the burden of EU regulation. There is however, a rub: If we are to have continued access to the EU’s single market – which is the world’s largest free market – then, like Norway and Switzerland, we will have to abide by all the regulations anyway, but without having any voice in their making.
We are deluding ourselves if we believe that the referendum is going to present us with simple and easy options.