Friday, 13 May 2016

What's All This About a Referendum?

In the first of a series of blogs, Paul Kent - author of "The Lowdown: The EU - Should We Stay Or Should We Go" - continues to consider the upcoming EU referendum.

 When I wrote The EU –Should We Stay or Should We Go back in 2013, I noted that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had pledged to allow a referendum on the subject should his Conservative Party win the 2015 General Election. Well, they did, and indeed he has – a full year before he originally thought he might.

So why the rush? Well, as I noted three years ago, opposition to the UK’s membership of the EU was growing more vocal both on the right wing of his party, and among voters who were seemingly flocking to a “new” phenomenon in British politics, the United Kingdom Independence Party, better known as UKIP, which, despite being twenty years old, was only then starting to gain political traction. Cameron, as a pro-EU Tory, had previously dismissed this opposition as a bunch of fruitcakes and wackos. Which may or may not be true, but what he couldn’t deny was that they were gaining considerable popular support, to the point where they could no longer be ignored. The boil had to be lanced simply to get them to shut up and go away. And he thought that a referendum was the simplest way to do it.

But Cameron seriously underestimated quite how difficult that routine minor surgery would prove, and now he’s got a real fight on his hands – one which he in in serious danger of losing, if polls are to be believed.

Which of course they’re not – at least without a whole host of questions being asked first.

Cameron made a great play of admitting that there was plenty wrong with the EU, but nothing that a stiff dose of UK-prompted reform wouldn’t fix. So in he went to bat against the other 27 member states, to negotiate what he could sell as a fresh start and a new beginning to the British electorate. And here’s what he managed to get:

FINANCE: the UK will never join the Euro, and British financial institutions will be protected from Eurozone regulations being automatically imposed on them;

MIGRATION: migrants to the UK from other EU nations will not be able to claim tax credits and welfare payments immediately they arrive, and they will no longer be allowed to send so much of what they are paid out of the country;

SOVEREIGNTY: for the first time, there will be a clear commitment that Britain is not part of a move towards "ever closer union" with other EU member states - one of the core principles of the EU. This will be incorporated in an EU treaty change. Mr Cameron also secured a "red card" system for national parliaments. It will be easier for governments to band together to block unwanted legislation. If 55% of national EU parliaments object to a piece of EU legislation it will be rethought.

And that’s it. These are the reforms we need to add to my summary of what the EU is and how it works, as described in my book to get an up-to-date picture of what’s at stake. How the debate is proceeding will be the subject of my next blog – and it won’t be pretty! But in the meantime, in keeping with Should We Stay or Should We Go’s original premise, I’m going to remain impartial throughout. I will not be joining those vested interests promising you either Armageddon or the Promised Land if you vote for them, because my mind’s still open, and I’m damn well going to make the decision for myself no matter how much the two sides try to scare or entice me round
to their point of view. I want what’s best for the UK and its people in the long term – not what’s best for politicians, multinational corporations, the City of London, newspaper proprietors, racial bigots, little Englanders, Boris Johnson, bureaucrats on the gravy train, time
servers or journalists. So watch this space . . . - Paul Kent

"The Lowdown: The EU - Should We Stay or Should We Go" is available in eBook and audio versions from Amazon, iBooks, Audible - and most good digital retailers.

Paul Kent is also the author of "101 Short Essays on Shakespeare".