By Tim Montgomerie
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In my fortnightly column for tomorrow's Times (£) I warn the Eurosceptic movement that their excitement at the prospect of a vote on the EU shouldn't blind them to the huge task ahead. Although some renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the EU is likely I'm not optimistic that those wanting fundamental change – or complete withdrawal – will succeed.
I argue this, by the way, as someone who supports leaving the EU (and has done so publicly since May 2009). I support exit because I want to revitalise British democracy and have our own politicians determine our laws and economic policy. I also want Britain to play its full part in the world and not be chained to Europe's declining model.
I nonetheless list a number of problems facing the Eurosceptic movement and why their vindication on the big issues – like the €uro – may not lead to victory. For example…
- The British people tend to reaffirm the status quo in referenda;
- The EU will probably give enough renegotiation to persuade some floating voters that the EU deserves the benefit of the doubt for a bit longer (although current opinion polls suggest Britain thinks the EU is bad for us they also say that they'd prefer to remain members of a renegotiated arrangement (even when those polls are conducted by VoteUKOutOfEU!));
- All of the main party leaders will back continuing membership (assuming Cameron stays as Tory leader);
- There is currently no Business-for-Sterling type campaign that will argue against the big beasts of the business world who will largely say we should stay as full members of the EU;
- The Eurosceptic movement is quite balkanised with divisions even between Tory Eurosceptics on tactics and strategy — divisions between sceptics in UKIP, the trades union movement and, for example, the Greens are even greater;
- Things that the Right worry most about the EU – like its rigid labour laws – are not necessarily unpopular with voters…
- Scratch beneath the surface of a minority of hardline Eurosceptics as the "Pro-EU" campaign will do and there's enough anti-foreigner mentality to destabilise the positive, internationalist case for national independence. Just remember the poison that the pro-EPP factions threw at our new friends in the the ECR Group.
The Eurosceptics can still deliver fundamental renegotiation or withdrawal if they start organising themselves now. They may also be helped by political incompetence and over-reach amongst the EU's elite. But the delight at winning a referendum could be short-lived. The hardest work still lies ahead.