The Tory Party under Cameron seems to be determined to get itself into the same sort of mess over Europe as it managed to do under Major. Cameron himself looks increasingly like the prisoner of his party rather than its leader; forced into a position of conceding that there will be a referendum, even if to date he doesn’t really know when or why.
It’s an issue with which Glyn Davies seems to be having some difficulty, although his problem seems not to be with the question of holding a referendum or even of leaving the EU, but with the consequences of holding a vote and getting the ‘wrong’ answer. I suspect that there are a lot of Tories who really want to leave the EU, but are, like Glyn, afraid that a vote might go the wrong way from their perspective.
I agree with Glyn’s analysis that a ‘yes’ vote would probably strengthen the hand of integrationists, but I’m less certain than he is that the answer would indeed be a ‘yes’. It’s a golden rule of referendums that people don’t call for them unless they think they have a good chance of winning them.
A lot has changed since the 1975 referendum; at that time, the entire UK political establishment was lined up in favour of entering the then Common Market, backed up by the entire mainstream media. It would be different in any new referendum; I have a sense that isolationism is in the ascendancy within the Tory Party as well as in sections of the media. The full extent of that ascendancy within the Tory Party in particular is probably being hidden at present; but it would become more obvious once any referendum was called.
I was opposed to entry in 1975, and spent the campaign period delivering leaflets and talking to people on doorsteps; and there is much about the EU about which I am not exactly enthusiastic. I’m convinced, however, that the best place for Wales – and the UK – to be is in, rather than out, and the separatist views being expressed by many Tories seem to be more about harking back to an imagined glorious past rather than about looking to the future.
The UK has long looked like a reluctant – even recalcitrant – member of the EU, and that hasn’t always maximised the UK’s influence at the negotiating table. Why would anyone listen to the member who looks like he doesn’t really want to be there? In that sense, I hope that Glyn’s view is right. No issue like this can ever be settled ‘for ever’, but a more specific and enthusiastic commitment would be a step forward, for a while at least.