The debate on European issues in the UK has certainly gained momentum since the outcome of the 7 May general election made it a racing certainty that there would be an ‘in/out’ referendum before the end of 2017, most likely on a date still to be determined in 2016. David Hannay, member of the House of Lords and former Ambassador to the EU, reviews the pre-referendum campaign so far.
Some of the main battle-lines have already become discernible. But so far the debate is no more than that; it falls far short of the sort of all-out campaign which can be expected before the vote.
Why is that? Well, first there are a number of technical, electoral law considerations relating to finance and other matters which discourage any premature formal campaign activity; and in any case neither side of the argument has yet settled on the shape and composition of the main campaigning organisations. More significantly neither of the two main political parties, Conservative and Labour, have yet decided how they are going to campaign. That both these parties will be to some extent split when a real campaign does start is not seriously in doubt, and it is already possible to make an informed guess as to who will be campaigning for a ‘yes’ to remaining in the EU and who for a ‘no’. But on the Conservative side much will depend on the negotiations in Brussels which the government has engaged and whose outcome will only be known at the end of this year at the very earliest, probably rather later. And on the Labour side everything, this issue included, is shrouded in the fog of battle which surrounds the leadership succession. Of the smaller parties there is no doubt how the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party will line up; but in Northern Ireland the implications for the Good Friday agreement of Britain finding itself outside the European Union could produce a rather difference approach than was the case in 1975. Continue reading