The Prime Minister, David Cameron has made it clear that at the end of this term in Downing Street, he will step down. Nonetheless, as pledged in 2013, he is bound to hold an in-out from the EU referendum before the end of 2017.
Judged by some of his not-easy-to-understand assertions, he is leaving the country in the lurch. When he says: “English votes for English laws”, it connotes that he is saying goodbye to the Scots before they actually opt for independence. Thus, there is a state of uncertainty – uncertainty about the future constitutional relationship between the different components of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Though SNP were humbled following the “No” vote in the Scottish independence referendum yet it left the sovereignty of Westminster internally within the UK in question.
Mr Cameron, irrespective of achieving anything substantial in renegotiation with the leaders of the EU, has to go for referendum. It will turn out later whether he will campaign to remain in or to get out of the EU. Either way his campaign would hinge upon 4 things – preferences of the people on EU membership, the question asked in the referendum, Conservatives’ popularity and inter- and intra-party politics.
According to the latest opinion polls 40% of the people want to leave the EU. Receiving 4 million votes, 13% of those cast, UKip, who won the last EU elections, are campaigning for Britain’s exit from the EU. A substantial number of Tory MPs and many MPs of the Labour party are also in favour of exit.
In referendums, the question asked is always of crucial importance. In 2013, Conservatives suggested: “Do you think the UK should remain a member of European Union, Yes or No”. This question was widely criticised by various circles. Thus, the Electoral Commission intervened and proposed: “Should UK remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” This question was accepted by the Prime Minister Mr Cameron.
Though the Tories won 2015 general elections to the extent of forming government comfortably without sharing power with any other party, yet they are not comfortable over the in-out question. David Cameron wants to stay in the EU once he got some powers back from it. At the moment, Cameron is reluctant to reveal the full details of what he wants from the EU leaders but he is expected to demand opt-out from the EU ambition to forge a United States of Europe. His other demands may include restriction of access to in-work and out-of-work benefits to EU migrants, greater powers to national parliaments to block EU legislation, freeing of businesses from red tape and excessive interference from Brussels, protection of City of London financial markets from EU legislation and lastly, creating safeguards to ensure changes in the single market that should not be imposed on non-euro zone members by the euro zone.
Here I must stop to stress over another aspect of the issue, and that is, referendums quite often turn out to be the popularity tests of the incumbent government. Just like mid-term polls, these provide an opportunity to the public to express their indignation with the performance of the government. Here I would like to quote Michelle Dorrell, 35, a mum of 4, and a Tory voter, who broke down in tears on Question Time (15/10/15). Full of tears she confronted the energy secretary Amber Rudd saying: “I thought you were going to be better for me and my children.” As she said this the audience members shouted: “Shame on you.” So things like these cannot be ignored and these will make the legacy David Cameron would be leaving for his successor.
Then there is a tug of war within and without the Conservatives. There is no denying the fact that when a party is split internally, it cannot successfully persuade voters of their leadership’s message. There are quite a few Tory MPs who would cause internal division. On the contrary, it seems more likely that internal divisions within the Labour party will make a ‘Brexit’ (Britain’s exit from EU) more plausible. Though both the Lib Dems and the Labour opposed referendum during the general elections saying that no referendum unless there were plans to transfer more powers from the UK to the EU but later on Labour stopped opposing referendum.
The Labour party, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems are in favour of staying in the EU. They believe that Britain gets a big boost from EU membership – it makes selling things easier. They argue that the flow of immigrants, most of whom are young and keen to work, enhance the economic growth and helps pay for public services. They also believe that Britain’s status in the world would be damaged by leaving EU.
David Cameron has said that there is “no doubt” his planned reforms will require changes to the treaties governing the EU. But this would require the unanimous support of all EU members, and it may not be possible within the deadline he has set for a referendum before the end of 2017.
However, Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission, has said he is ready to work with Mr Cameron to “strike a fair deal for the UK in the EU.” “The ball is very much in the court of the UK now”, a senior official told the Guardian. “It’s up to the British to define what they want.”