Sunday, July 06, 2003

Brer Tory

Christopher Booker speculated a month ago on a future referendum on the European Constitution. Blair would sooner or later have to hold one but it would be the "nuclear option" of whether or not people wanted to be in the EU - and also accepting the constitution and the Euro as part of the package.

The Tories had fallen into a trap of saying that they would never support withdrawal, and so would end up in supporting the referendum and it would be 1975 all over again. The way out, Mr Booker contended, would be to talk about withdrawal.

Maybe not. Withdrawal is probably the only position which is more Eurosceptic than the electorate at large, and could lose the Tories votes. More to the point it would tear the party in half, especially if Portillo is around to stir the poison. So what to do?

How about behaving responsibly. To any moderate proponent of continued membership of the EU (that is someone who is wary about going further - ie most British voters and many chief executives) this referendum would be seen as a stupid risk. To play hard and fast with Britain's place in Europe would be seen as wrong in and of itself.

So there's where the Tories come in. Make Blair look like a moody adolescent - not too hard when one considers the emotional material one is dealing with. Say of course we won't be going out if we vote no, after all there will be no legislative machinery to do this (Labour won't introduce a paving bill for withdrawal before calling the referendum). So this withdrawal is simply an empty threat. Vote No and don't be afraid that Europe will suddenly be gone in the morning. The Tories should be simply making out that the whole referendum is ridiculous - which will serve the double purpose of keeping moderate pro-Europeans at home in a huff with the government as well as persuading undecideds that it is perfectly safe to vote against this referendum. It will also keep the Tories almost united.

No Mr Blair, please don't throw us into the referendum patch.


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