Thursday, 20 October 2011

Let's not have a referendum

I suppose it should be mildly encouraging that the House of Commons is to debate and vote on whether there should be a referendum concerning the UK's membership of the European Union. The BBC informs me (here) that what will be debated is whether a referendum should be held giving the great British public three choices: (i) remaining in the EU, (ii) withdrawing from the EU and (iii) staying in but renegotiating the terms "in order to create a new relationship based on trade and cooperation".

My initial reaction was to wonder at the absurdity of offering three options. Nothing seems to be said about the proportion of votes required for any single option to be deemed the winner. Will it be more than one third or more than half? If the former it will lack legitimacy, if the latter it will set a very high hurdle for each option. 40% for staying in, 30% for withdrawal and 30% for renegotiation could be contrued as 70% for staying in but trying to change the unchangeable or as 60% for changing the status quo without any obligation on government to do anything about it. Either way it is completely unsatisfactory.

My second reaction was to ask whether there is any difference between the first and third options and, indeed, between the second and third options.

Staying in does not prevent renegotiation of the terms of membership, so option (iii) (if acted on by the government) merely adds a requirement to enter negotiations. What it cannot do is dictate the outcome of those negotiations because, by definition, negotiations only lead to a change if all parties to the discussion agree on a specific outcome. As I understand it an outcome in favour of option (iii) would not require the government to do anything, although it would be bad politics for them not to make at least a token gesture of trying to change the terms of EU membership. And even if they were constitutionally obliged to negotiate that would not guarantee any particular result.

Leaving the EU cannot take place in a vacuum. The UK has numerous trade treaties with countries around the globe, absent such treaties practical business cannot be conducted and just those sorts of treaties will be required if we are to deal in a sensible manner with the remaining EU nations. Withdrawal from the EU necessarily requires new treaties to be negotiated with the new, slightly smaller, EU because country-by-country treaties with EU members are not an option - the EU as a conglomerate has control over such matters. In other words, withdrawal will require negotiation "in order to create a new relationship based on trade and cooperation" - so what of option (iii)?

The terms proposed for a referendum look like a hopeless and confused committee-created fudge. A referendum on the terms proposed is likely to achieve only one thing, namely to kick the issue into the long grass for the foreseeable future. Only a straight in/out question is appropriate.


Woman on a Raft said...

A referendum on the terms proposed is likely to achieve only one thing, namely to kick the issue into the long grass for the foreseeable future.

I think you'll find that's the whole point and has been since the referendum wheeze on the ECA72. If this had been a marriage it would have been annulled on grounds of mistaken identity.

Antisthenes said...

iii) has a lot of potential if in the most likely event that is adopted the most like is i). If adopted it will be disregarded in its entirety by the likes of Germany and France and will receive a resounding 'NON'. This will have the effect of putting the backs up of the British and encouraging other nations within the EU to look to renegotiate. It could mean that the EU will breakup as squabbling among EU states makes continuation impossible or UK citizens will be so incensed by the contempt the EU appears be holding for them that they will insist upon leaving.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Happy Xmas, thanks for joining in the shadow boxing re LVT. Keeps me on my toes.

Barnacle Bill said...

Merry Christmas to one and all at Bigot Towers, I hope everything goes well in the galley tomorrow for you Mr. FB and all the best for 2012.

Sean said...


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Anonymous said...

Hi Mr FatBigot, have you croaked?

TheFatBigot said...

Not yet, but it's only a matter of time.

Anonymous said...

Fatbigot you've got the best blogroll on the internet and I use it every day. I also enjoy reading your blog. Where are you? Come back.

Anonymous said...

Think: The cup is half full!

Anonymous said...

I've thunk: There is no glass

investment in bamboo said...

Or else the glass was just yanked away

Mark Wadsworth said...

TFB, what's with the non-blogging? Come back! It's good fun disagreeing with you.

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