Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Token negotiations risk an indecisive Yes or even a weak No

Given all the talk about an EU referendum, with many on both sides attempting to pre-judge the outcome, we thought this letter by Nigel Smith in today's FT was worth flagging up. Mr. Smith is unusually well qualified to comment on this area given that he chaired the cross-party campaign for a 'Yes' vote on Scottish Devolution in 1997, advised the Northern Irish referendum in 1998 and chaired the UK Euro No campaign between 2002 and 2004.

Here is the letter in full:
Sir, Gideon Rachman’s view that a British referendum on Europe would “strongly resemble” the last one in 1975 and would be likely to produce the same result is flawed (“Don’t panic – Britain would vote to stay in the EU”, January 3). Does he really think that another token renegotiation will produce the same decisive Yes to Europe as it did in 1975 – a 67 per cent majority – a result that has carried a doubting nation through 40 years? 
Roy Jenkins, the senior cabinet member leading the Yes side, shuddered with embarrassment at the tokenism. But it worked as the hinge for a reversal in opinion partly because a sceptical public feared a No vote would trigger an economic crisis and partly because the blanket support of the media for staying in Europe made them unwilling to expose the charade. The idea that tokenism will again go unchallenged after 40 years’ experience of the EU is not tenable. 
Mr Rachman also sets great store by the three main party leaders being on the Yes side – despite Europe being littered with examples where voters have rejected their elites in referendums. Even in 1975, in a more deferential age, opinion moved in favour of his “fruitcakes” on the No side. Because Yes started in the lead, with 74 per cent supporting renegotiation, it could afford a little erosion in support. There is no prospect of the next referendum starting with the same level of support for tokenism.
Given these differences, token negotiations risk an indecisive Yes or even a weak No. The latter would have the negotiators scampering back to Brussels for the substantive negotiations they should have conducted in the first place and, of course, another referendum. There could hardly be a worse prospect, but the record shows it to be a typically EU approach to referendums.
If the EU and Britain decide on renegotiation then it must be substantive in nature and transparent in process. This approach will also prove educative for the public so that, even if negotiations deliver little change, the referendum that follows will be honest and informed, and the consequences of a No vote clear. 
Nigel Smith, Glasgow, UK

7 comments:

Patrick Barron said...

The problem with these referendums to "renogotiate" the UK's deal with the EU is that once the voters have approved nothing really changes; i.e., politics take over and no substantial "renegotiation" ever takes place or it is watered down and not what the voters expected. The real vote should be an up or down for staying in the EU. Let the YES side explain why it is better for the UK to remain, and give the sceptics a chance to explain why tying the UK to this preposterous Frankenstein monster was a bad idea from the start

christina speight said...

Why does Open Europe go along with the ignorant Cameron and all the "Meejah" in assuming that if we ask for negotiations we can have them. There is no imminent Treaty change in prospect so that the UK has no bargaining power in that context.

The Treaty provides Articles 48 and 50 for members to call for changes, Art:48 in unsuitable for this widespread repatriation of powers so it's Article 50 or nothing. I suspect it will be in fact NOTHING since there is a prerequisite that the applicant country shall first announce its intention to quit the EU upon which negotiations are mandatory.

Cameron doesn't seem to know this and the lazy hacks don't bother to find out. In any case Cameron is so wedded to the EU that he would not agree to that prior announcement. Hence - NOTHING!

Anonymous said...

The EUSSR does not negotiate.

Nor does it pay attention to referendum outcomes.

That's because it is a totalitarian body.

Why is that obvvious fact being overlooked in all of this toing and froing?

jon livesey said...

The UK actually does have some important leverage because the EU does need the UK to agree, eventually, to treaty changes for euro-area integration, and that gives the UK leverage a country like Switzerland lacks.

The EU can delay the inevitable by making agreements among the euro 17, but that’s actually OK, too. Agreements between the euro 17 can’t bind the UK, or the other non-euro 10, while UK access to the Single Market is guaranteed by Treaties binding on all the EU 27, and that can’t be changed by the euro 17.

So at worst we are looking at period of limbo in which the euro 17 impose changes on themselves that don’t enmesh the UK, and at some point in the future some UK PM gets to agree to Treaty changes for the euro 17, in exchange for whatever quid pro quo will be negotiated.

Rik said...

@Patrick the referendum will have to be an IN-OUT one. At least at the end of the process. Hard to believe that the UK population accepts something else and that Cameron can survive politically on something else.

The problem with Cameron looks to be that he simply isnot able to execute a long term strategy under pressure. And there will be a lot of pressure over this. Subsequently not overseeing things he moves to his normal modus operanda: making it up when it comes along (while not being able to oversee the whole picture). That leads to all those 50% results and u-turns in his reign.

And those semi-resultsa and u-turns means that he has a credibility problem. He starts to attack that and work with a viable strategy or both Mr Cameron and the possibility of a treaty reneg become a total waist of time. And we have to wait till enough pressure builds up in the political system till the government of the day goes for an IN-as it is or OUT. Most likely leading to an out seen the polls and the damage that another uncredible government has done to the politicl system as a whole.

Rik said...

@christina
You know as well as I do that the Euro crisis will require treatychange. Whether the players like it or not. And probably sooner than later.
Some examples:
There is no Euro exit possible now without EU exit. Even if the rest of the EZ would agree on it Greece if it wants to leave the EZ it would have to leave the EU in total unless all including the UK appoves that via a treaty change.
A new banking union simply also requires a treatychange. They might say not, but that is basically that it would be ok for now (which is legally utter rubbish). Furthermore there will likely be local parliaments making trouble on the issue say in Germany via the Constitutional Court. Which would stop the whole thing until it is properly done.
And there are several other things as well.
Highly unlikely that there will be no treatychange and very dangerous to solve it otherwise. But not tomorrow of course.

48-50 Is simply no issue if you are going to change the treaty anyway you can change those as well. They are aprt of the same treaty. That is mainly a technical matter.
Of course when negotiations would be started and come near completion it has to be put in a legal framework. Which could be 48 or 50 but before that time it is not really an issue.

If there is a will to solve it, it is not a point. If there is no will it cannot be solved anyway. And you would have to trigger 50 probably for a real exit and not for a reneg.
But that is not to way to come to a solution Cameron apparently wants to go for.

christhai said...

It all assumes that the EU would even want to agree to "EU 'Negotiations'" and even if they said "Yes, OK - then there is nothing to stop them reversing the whole thing later.

Frankly, the UK / EU thing is like a Divorce in its tertiary stages. All very civilised and then BANG - all the nasty stuff comes out.

The UK must leave the EU and then send them a notice that they have done so.

If the UK want to be REALLY NASTY - they will hold an IN or OUT Referendum - now that scares the pants off the EU Commission and Council members. DGs would be scrambling for their American bank accounts - what a lovely mess it would be.