People are starting to ask why the Labour Party has not sought to match the Tory pledge of a 2017 EU Referendum — or indeed to go one better and offer a referendum sooner. The electoral advantage is evident, and I, like many on our side of the fence, had expected that ahead of the 2015 General Election both Tories and Labour would offer an EU referendum. Indeed I wondered if even the Lib-Dems would yield to the pressure — after all, the mendacious wannabees gave such a pledge last time (although of course they never intended to deliver, and have fought tooth and nail against it ever since).
I’ve just come across one possible explanation. Ed perhaps thinks that he has little chance of winning a working majority in 2015, so his game-plan is to show some ankle to the Lib-Dems in the hope that they might join a Lib-Lab coalition after the election. He believes (perhaps rightly) that a Labour commitment to an EU referendum would scupper that possibility (although a lib-Lab coalition would also give him the perfect excuse to dump the referendum pledge). If this is so, he is clearly a man who puts personal ambition ahead of the electorate or the national interest, and he certainly doesn’t deserve to be the Prime Minister of Great Britain. A small-time politician, not a statesman.
His plan may be disappointed on other grounds. Given the state of Nick Clegg in the opinion polls, the loss of the Lib-Dems’ “none-of-the-above” niche now that they’re in government, and now that they’re facing the Lord Rennard crisis, it’s not impossible that there will be more UKIP MPs than Lib-Dem MPs in Westminster in 2015. Watch this space.
Meantime, Nick Clegg warns that the uncertainty of Britain’s place in the EU, given the talk of an In/Out referendum, is a disincentive for foreign investors to come to Britain. Let’s be fair to Nick Clegg: he has half a point. It’s a very cack-handed approach to international relations to say “We’ll have a referendum in four years’ time” (as it was when he announced it). It’s like a man who goes to his wife and says “I’d like a divorce, please, dear, but not until 2017”. Or as Saint Augustine put it “Oh Lord, make me chaste. But not yet!”. This is bound to create uncertainty, and uncertainty is never good for investment. But the conclusion is not to abandon the Referendum, but to get on with it.
Meantime, some thoughts for Nick Clegg. If you want to know what discourages business and investment, Nick, look no further than Brussels. The massive direct and indirect costs of EU membership damage our fiscal position, and drive up regulatory and compliance costs for industry. EU employment laws make our labour markets less flexible and increase employment costs — they also obstruct job creation and growth. And perhaps most pressing right now, those EU climate and energy policies which have started to make even the EU Commission itself flinch, are driving industry and jobs and investment overseas.
And those Captains of Industry (who ought to know better) who are saying we should stay in the EU? I’m afraid, Nick, that they’ve swallowed your “isolated and marginalised” narrative without pausing to think. As an independent nation, we’ll continue to have access to Europe’s (declining) markets through a Free Trade Agreement, but without the suffocating burden and cost of EU regulation. We’ll have market access, lower costs, lower taxes, lower energy prices, more flexible labour markets. What’s not to like?