As we’ve seen in the local elections, UKIP don’t have to win masses of seats to have a big effect on British politics.
Tory backbenchers are terrified of them and now want the European in/out referendum before the next election. They want legislation to trigger the vote in next week’s Queen’s Speech. Mr Cameron had tried to appease the Euro sceptics with a promise to put a renegotiated terms package to the people by 2017.
But there is no appeasing these anti EU fanatics, they will take the concessions and move on to the next demand.
How will the nation vote when actually faced with the consequences of coming out?
This week Downtown Liverpool held a debate and vote on this very subject. While it would be absurd to suggest the result is scientifically representative, nevertheless I think 17 for coming out of the EU, 21 against with a substantial 14 saying they don’t know feels as if it might be where public opinion is at the moment. In other words there is substantial support for withdrawal and a large number of votes to play for amongst people who choose not to obsess about Europe every day.
It was a lively debate, to be repeated in Manchester soon. I led off trying to cram too much into my allocated 5 minutes. I expressed my fear that Ed Miliband will be pressurised into supporting an in/out referendum, that the renegotiation will be unsuccessful, that nevertheless the three main parties will urge a vote to stay in and the British people will be swayed by the Murdoch press into voting to come out. I then foresaw a very difficult process of withdrawal with no guarantee that we could negotiate the same trade arrangements from outside the EU.
Dougal Paver, head of PaverSmith Communications Agency disagreed saying that it would not be in the EU’s interest to put tariffs on British goods. He also said that most of our trade was with the rest of the world now. He loved visiting Europe but didn’t want to be shackled by EU regulations on small businesses.
Kevin Doran is hoping to be elected as a Labour Euro MP next year and firmly wants to stay in the EU. He said David Cameron’s promise of a referendum had created uncertainty among long term potential investors in Britain. He also said it was unclear which powers Mr Cameron wanted to claw back from Europe.
The final speaker was Scott Fletcher, MD of ANS Group, who said the British people agreed to a European trade deal not the all singing, all dancing EU that we have got now. He said the way the EU was governed bore similarities to the old Soviet Union in terms of its unaccountability.
The vote was more or less a three way split and if that is where the UK is at the moment, pro Europeans are going to have their work cut out to prevent a disastrous no vote in 2017 whoever is in power.