By Tim Montgomerie
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"Earlier this morning, Number 10 briefed that fiscal union in the eurozone would not trigger a referendum in this country because sovereignty will not be transfered from London to Brussels."
So reported Coffee House. Number 10 is legally correct – the referendum lock only covers a transfer of sovereignty. But Number 10 is legally correct now in the same way that David Cameron was technically correct when he abandoned his cast-iron pledge to hold a referendum on Lisbon. It just looks slippery. Very slippery. Politicians keep promising a say for voters on Europe but they always find a reason to deny them that say. To say that Britain isn't fundamentally affected by the emergence of fiscal union is, frankly, incredible.
The arguments that will be thrown at those of us who think a referendum will strengthen David Cameron's hand in negotiations are (a) saving the €urozone is the only thing that matters at the moment and (b) if we don't meekly agree to what Merkel and Sarkozy want they'll form a separate Treaty of the 17 without us and other €uro members.
- To (a) I would argue that I don't want the existing €urozone saved and I don't think fiscal union begins to tackle the debt and uncompetitiveness of today's single currency area. As Bruce Anderson wrote this morning; If you believe fiscal union would work, you must also believe in Santa Claus.
- To (b) I'd call the EU's bluff. I suspect Germany desperately wants a Treaty of the 27 rather than the 17 and we shouldn't underestimate our negotiating position. The emergence of a Treaty of the 17 changes the EU in a fundamental way. It moves Europe towards a two-speed arrangement and that is a huge change from today's one-size-fits-all model. The EU will much prefer a Treaty of the 27 even if that means giving Britain something in return.