A backbencher with questionable leadership ambitions called Adam Afriyie hopes that I will support his amendment to the forthcoming EU In/Out Referendum Bill. He plans to table a wrecking amendment which would bring the referendum forward from 2017 to 2014, and hopes that died-in-the-wool Eurosceptics like me will support him in his madcap scheme.
Now on the face of it, if you are as unhappy with the EU as I am, you’d have thought that an early referendum on our membership was quite a good idea. ‘Let’s get out as soon as we can,’ would be the line advanced by at least some of my constituents. And if there was a good reason to think that these shenanigans would provide us with a safe, easy and quick exit from the EU, it is at least possible that I could be persuaded to support it.
But let’s just think about this. Let’s leave aside for the moment the Parliamentary procedures surrounding a Private Member’s Bill such as this, which would mean that any such amendment is very likely to kill off the whole bill, and therefore snooker any prospect of a referendum now or ever. Let’s leave aside the likelihood that if the amendment were to be passed the PM would have no choice but to kill the Bill off. Let’s imagine for the sake of the dream that the Bill could pass through Parliament with the date of 2014 in it. What would happen then?
One of two broad outcomes is possible. Either the nation would vote to stay in the EU; or they would vote to leave it.
If the people vote ‘Yes’ (i.e. to stay in the EU) in 2014 – what would happen then? That, of course would make any renegotiation of our membership of the EU impossible. It would commit us for all time to the EU, emasculating any threat to leave. It would kill the Eurosceptic cause for a generation, and it would give oxygen to the UKIP ‘leave at any cost’ wing at the 2015 General Election. A ‘Yes’ vote in a 2014 Referendum would be a disaster all round.
But if they vote ‘No’ (to leave), it could have almost as disastrous consequences. It would prevent the renegotiation of our terms of membership to which the PM is committed; for largely un-thought-through reasons more associated with a vague feeling of nationalism than with any rational consideration of the consequences, the people would have voted willy-nilly and helter-skelter for a course of action, the end result of which we can but dimly imagine.
The PM would have had to campaign for a ‘yes’ vote; and would without doubt have to resign if he lost – causing a leadership battle a few months before a crucial General Election. The markets would take a very dim view of the UK crashing out of the EU with very little thought for the consequences; a run on the pound, or stock market collapse would be very likely, seriously endangering our fragile recovery from recession. The consequences of a premature ‘No’ vote – even to a dyed in the wool Eurosceptic such as I – would be both so unquantifiable and unpredictable as to make me at least consider voting ‘Yes’!
So I shall be ignoring Mr Afriyie’s egotistical blandishments; I shall be supporting James Wharton’s excellent Private Member’s Bill; I shall be pressurising the PM for a proper renegotiation of our terms of membership; and if it is not forthcoming, I shall be campaigning and voting ‘No’ in a 2017 Referendum. That is the realistically achievable way of trying to sort out the mess which our membership of the EU has become.