Monday, 13 January 2014

Clubs, rules, and expulsions

I’m sure that the idea put forward by almost 100 Tory MPs, that the UK Parliament should have the right to refuse to apply any EU rules which it doesn’t like, will prove to be popular in the current anti-foreigner climate which seems to be taking hold in the UK; and the fact that it’s completely unrealistic will only make it more so.  I’m equally sure that the MPs involved (well, most of them anyway!) possess sufficient nous to know that what they’re proposing is a complete non-starter.
Telling the other members of a club that you will unilaterally decide which club rules to follow and which to disregard is a recipe for expulsion from the club – and perhaps that’s their real aim.  The separatists of the Conservative Party (and I rather suspect that there are more of them in parliament than the near 100 who’ve signed this latest little letter) are determined to remove the UK from the EU; their letter probably has more to do with establishing a casus belli than with setting out a realistic way forward.
In essence, however, what they’re asking for is not actually that much different from the formal policy of the UK Government.  Cameron has made it clear many times that he wants to change the rules to allow more decisions to be made at state level rather than at EU level.  The key difference between his position and that of around half of his back-bench “supporters” is that he wants to negotiate such a change, whilst his troops want to just do it unilaterally.
Perhaps Cameron is actually the real target here.  For all the bluster, the likeliest outcome of any “renegotiation” (assuming for a moment that the Tories are elected in 2015 with a sufficient majority to even open such a negotiation – no small assumption in itself) is a rerun of 1975, with a set of minimal changes, presented as more than they really are, which will allow Cameron to claim a great victory and recommend a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum to which he has managed to get himself committed. 
His “supporters” can see that coming, and fear that it would be a huge defeat for their separatist position.  They’re not confident of achieving their objective by that route, so they’re looking for another.  Whether Cameron would get the referendum result he wants is another question entirely. It’s just possible that he’ll be unable to put the genie back in the bottle by then, but the separatists are unwilling to run that risk. 
Pandering to the separatist elements in his party – who are running scared of the even more separatist elements in UKIP - might have bought Cameron some breathing space in the short term, but yielding ground to them is only compounding his problems in the longer term.  With around half his backbenchers taking an impossible position on the EU issue (and who knows how many of those ‘on the payroll’ take a similar view?), it may well not be Cameron’s problem after 2015, even if his party wins.

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