Friday, 19 October 2007

Brown under the cosh on referendum

As Gordon Brown attends the EU summit in Lisbon, he is under the cosh from the British media on the subject of a referendum on the new treaty. One poll suggests that 75 per cent of British voters would like such a referendum.

Brown's strategy seems to be to hope that everyone will have forgotten about it by the time of a general election two years away, particularly given that most voters are more interested in subjects like health and education. However, it could set back attempts to re-buid his image, particularly given that he has placed emphasis on 'trusting the people'.

Under some media pressure, Tony Blair did agree to a referendum on the original constitutional treaty, although there was no referendum on the substantial extensions of EU power brought about by the Single European Act (approved when Mrs Thatcher was prime minister) or the Maastricht treaty.

The claim made by the Government is that the treaty has been significantly altered and that key British concerns are now protected by 'opt outs'. This was the line David Miliband was attempting to take in a Radio 5 interview this morning, but he seemed to be wriggling under pressure.

Ultimately it would need a lawyer specialising in the EU to rule on these matters, but although the revised version of the Treaty is somewhat different, and certainly upset the French, it is more difficult to claim that it is substantially different. However, calling a referendum would land the Government would even greater political problems, particularly if it was turned into a de facto vote on Brown's premiership.


skipper said...

I think your last point is the key one here Wyn. A referendum would be very dodgy given Gordon's precarious position after the 'election' cock-up. On strictly 'doing the right thing grounds Brown should hold a referendum but i've noticed supporters and defenders on the issue divide almost always on europhile-phobe grounds. I tend to be 'phile' and so find myself gathering arguments against. I think brown can get away with ignoring the referendum but can he afford another hit right now?

Wyn Grant said...

This issue is bound to divide people in terms of their attitudes towards Europe. It will be interesting to see what the Liberal Democrats do in the Commons debate. They may vote 'no' on the grounds that there should be a more general referendum on Britain's role in Europe.