Vicky Ford is Wrong

To evaluate what competing politicians say and analyse the intellectual rigour of their claims is part of the role of the serious media.

This autumn offers a particularly important example.

UKIP have produced a booklet (find here) claiming that there is a stitch-up about to take place. Nigel Farage believes that Cameron will try to repeat Harold Wilson’s 1975 referendum smokescreen: to deliberately obscure that Heath had signed away our sovereignty in 1972, and that Labour’s subsequent “renegotiations” had somehow made a difference to something. That we agreed to give up our sovereignty in 1972 (The European Communities Act) may come as a big surprise to those like me who were misled at the time into thinking we were voting Yes or No to a ‘single common market based on the principles of free trade’. As we have all since learned, Wilson found it impossible to renegotiate back anything material then and it’s still impossible today.

What people want now is a referendum asking the clear unambiguous question: should we take back our sovereignty, Yes or No? But that’s not where we’re going.

It is clearly articulated in all EU treaties since the 1957 Treaty of Rome and in all related EU documentation for the last 50 years that membership entails ‘ever closer union’ until all remaining sovereignty is subsumed. Pretending this, or parts of it, can be “renegotiated” is an oxymoron – emphasis on the “moron”. It’s exactly like saying, “I want to be a vegetarian but only if I can eat meat.”

So what are the Conservatives saying? It may seem harsh to single out East of England Conservative ECR MEP Vicky Ford but MEPs are required to produce an annual report or review which, while laudable, does expose any childish logic to grown up scrutiny. Vicky devotes a section of her 2012 Report to the question “should we have a referendum?”

She says: “… it makes increasing sense to offer voters a three way choice, and soon. Offering “in” and “out” with a third option which would mandate the UK Government to renegotiate our relationship to one based on trade and the single market. Once the outcome of these negotiations is clear, any agreement would need to be put back to the UK voters for a further referendum.”

No, it doesn’t make sense, Vicky. What she neglects to do is to explain how (or why) the vegetarian EU organisation would embrace a UK carnivore. On what evidence does she think renegotiation is on offer? In 50 years, no issues of sovereignty have ever been renegotiated: deferred, yes; renegotiated, no.

UKIP by contrast is refreshingly explicit: “… there is no third option. There cannot be. Being just part of a single market or customs union is not possible because the whole of the EU’s interpretation of what the Single Market is and how you create it offers no possibility other than ever closer Union – full political and economic integration built on uniform rules and regulations, a single economics and finance ministry with a single tax code and centralised sovereign institutions. In short, it is the creation of a United States of Europe.”

Vicky Ford’s ECR East of England colleagues are a little more savvy. Instead they have adopted more devious means in their reports:

  • Robert Sturdy makes no reference to the subject at all. Funny that.
  • David Campbell Bannerman writes in his 2011/12 Annual Review that his campaigning includes “Making case for Referendum on EU membership” (sic). It’s in very small type at the bottom of page 4 but offers little further information on the subject.
  • Geoffrey Van Orden writes, “…. we need to renegotiate our position – I don’t mean a phoney renegotiation like Harold Wilson pulled on us in 1975”. He also writes in his 2011 review that “the British people should have the opportunity to express their view … not simply “in” or “out” but on what sort of “in” (the new Treaty)”. Again, he doesn’t trouble us with much more information.

Although not as erroneously specific as Ford, Van Orden appears to subscribe to the same delusion of a renegotiation option and even in 2011 was beginning to dodge the In versus Out referendum question in favour of a fudged ‘new-sort-of-In’ versus status quo vote – the Out option having disappeared. This seems to have been quite prescient: today’s (20th October, 2012) Sunday Times reports Grant Shapps, the Tory party co-chairman, stating that after some (again undefined) renegotiations, the referendum would be on “a new settlement with Europe. Do you want this or do you want to carry on as we are? That would be the subject of it. It would be a yes/no question.” The Out option has gone and we’re only to be offered In or ‘a-new-sort-of-in’ choice. Not only has he subverted the question, he’s trying to make it sound like he’s doing us all a favour.

If it weren’t so serious it would be very funny. The In versus Out question has turned into Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire cat: we’re only to be offered a vote on the grin because the cat has disappeared, and its all based on a fantasy renegotiation anyhow. Welcome to Wonderland.

Robert Wilkin hates: liars and hypocrites of any persuasion. Loves: wife, children, England, fair play, sunshine, Cabernet Sauvignon & being annoying to liars and hypocrites. Follow him on Twitter @robertwilkin


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