Cameron's Euro-pledge throws political cards in the air

By staff writers
23 Jan 2013

Some highly varied responses have been forthcoming to PM David Cameron's promise of an 'in/out' referendum on UK European Union membership – from both the main parties and from those representing alternative viewpoints on the continent's future.

While the right-wing Eurosceptic party UKIP claimed credit for getting the Conservative leader to superimpose his own party's deep divisions and fear of electoral defeat on the British public, some of its own members have less faith that he will deliver the kind of vote they want.

Labour leader Ed Milliband, on the other hand, appeared to set his face against such a referendum, while London Tory Mayor Boris Johnson said that there was only a "vanishingly small" chance that the UK would leave the EU.

Mr Cameron's deputy, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, said that the promised 2017 referendum on re-negotiated membership of the EU, which other members are unlikely to accede to, would cause years of uncertainty and damage Britain's economy. President Obama is also reported to be unhappy.

"How different Europe looks from above and from below," commented Maria Margaronis, London correspondent for The Nation, a radical US magazine.

She continued: "For David Cameron, the main problem with the EU is that it prevents British businesses from exploiting their workers more so that they can compete with China: he wants the single market without the social safeguards. For the demonstrators he mentions as evidence of Europe's failings in Athens, Madrid and Rome, the problem is the opposite: their social safeguards have been slashed to meet the needs of the market."

Scottish National Party leaders and others who back the 'Yes Scotland' campaign for independence in 2014 are delighted at the development – believing that the Prime Minister has further undermined his own stance against Scottish self-government and statehood.

"It’s beginning to look as if independence might be the only way for Scotland to stay in the European Union. David Cameron’s UKIP-driven European folly looks more and more like a disaster for the 'No' campaign, wrote doyen Scottish journalist and 'Yes' convert Ruth Wishart, writing for the blog Bella Caledonia.

"Mr Cameron has ushered in a truly bizarre scenario where he might simultaneously be arguing that the Scots risk losing their European credentials whilst casually tossing the UK’s on the fire – and, in so doing, risking taking all the nations of the UK out of Europe on the back of Europhobic English votes," she declared.

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s speech today, the Director of political reform lobby Unlock Democracy, Peter Facey, said: “We welcome David Cameron’s commitment to today to an in/out referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU. We have supported an in/out referendum for several years and consider it long overdue."

Facey went on: “The road to this particular referendum is however particularly long and hazardous. Regardless of whether there is a referendum or not, it is crucial that the public has a central guiding role in deciding what the UK’s position should be in any future EU treaty negotiation. Failing to involve the public in the future direction of Europe has poisoned the debate about Britain in Europe for decades. Democracy does not begin and end with referendums."

“In the run up to this treaty change and referendum, Unlock Democracy intends to play an active role in ensuring that the debate is as fair, well informed and inclusive as possible,” he added.

Meanwhile, South-East England Green Euro MP Keith Taylor urged "three yeses" in response to Mr Cameron – 'yes' to the vote, 'yes' to the EU, and 'yes' to radical reform, but in the opposite direction to the Conservative's ideas. Mr Taylor wants a more social and sustainable Europe.

He said: "The fight for a radically reformed European Union is now on. I will be campaigning strongly for the UK to remain part of the EU but absolutely against business as usual. The EU must become more democratic, more legitimate and less of a vehicle for free trade."

“The European Union is well placed to enact policies on issues such as human and workers’ rights, climate change and international crime. Only this month we’ve seen evidence of the EU legislation on air pollution protecting the health of the British population while the UK government try and weaken the law,” said Mr Taylor

“Over the coming weeks, months and years I’ll be making a case for Britain’s continued membership of a radically reformed, truly democratic European Union that improves the lives of people in the UK and across the continent,” he said.

Jesuit priest Edmond Grace SJ, writing for the journal Thinking Faith said that while many did not now use the label 'Christian', nonetheless the European project "has embodied in its very existence the supremely Christian ideals of the reconciliation of enemies and the pursuit of peace." He was referring to the founding vision of what has become the EU following the destruction and ashes of two world wars started on the continent.

He added: "In our generation the layer of ash is once again wearing thin, but our political leaders do not seem capable of the vision which we need – a sense of a wider solidarity which transcends nations and which needs political expression. The EU is tired; many in Britain and elsewhere believe that it can be set aside like an old coat. Yet the civilisation which the EU strives to represent – and the need to care for that civilisation – will not go away. Britain cannot reasonably be written out of this project, nor walk away from it."

[Ekk/3]

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