How the Eustice amendment can get us 'out' of Europe.

The Eustice amendment could allow the 'out' campaign to legitimately argue that renegotiation had been tried, but wasn't enough, making a complete withdrawal the next logical step to take.

Is the end in sight?
Donna Rachel Edmunds
On 21 October 2011 12:02

iIt was bound to happen. In response to the debate called on whether to hold an In/Out/Shake-It-All-About Referendum on the EU, and in the midst of what was threatening to turn cataclysmic for Cameron & Co., an amendment has been submitted.

George Eustice MP has penned (well, typed) an email to his colleagues in which he asks for support in saying:

"This House calls upon the Government to publish a White Paper during the next session of parliament setting out the powers and competences that the Government would seek to repatriate from the EU, to commence a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU and to put the outcome of those negotiations to a national referendum.”

This has been characterized by some as a wrecking amendment by Europhiles, but I think to do so is to miss the wood for the trees. For a start, Eustice is ex-UKIP, so surely can hardly be said to be Europhile.

More importantly, however, I think his amendment could very well prove to be the best route to delivering the all-important ‘out’ result that so many would love to see.

The motion as it stands, if it were to go to the public vote unaltered, would split the 'out' vote.

With the most optimistic of polls placing support for leaving the EU at a shaky 50%, and taking into consideration the fact that people tend to vote in favour of the status quo, success for an 'out' campaign is very far from certain even on a straight In/Out vote.

But by giving the pro-European public one option ('in'), but those lying somewhere along the Eurosceptic spectrum two to chose from ('out' or 'renegotiation'), the In campaign would have a huge advantage.

Furthermore, as the situation currently stands, securing either a straight 'in'/'out' or the alternate three option referendum immediately would allow the In campaign to argue that divorcing ourselves from Europe without even attempting to renegotiate the terms of our membership is brash, foolish, and an unnecessary distraction whilst the country is going through difficult times and Europe is in turmoil.

As treaties are likely soon to be renegotiated anyway due to the financial crisis gripping the Eurozone, the time is ripe for renegotiation.

For those of us who are hardened Eurosceptics, well versed in the arguments against membership of the EU and all too well aware that the Brussels steamroller will carry on regardless of our pleas to take powers back, it's tempting to cry 'resistance is futile!' and insist on a complete severance.

But most people are not hardened Eurosceptics. Sure, they may have niggling feelings that Brussels passes too many silly regulations, and that we're wasting a lot of money on these bailouts - some might even be angry over the sums involved (if they're aware of them at all).

But most people are worried about the price of the petrol in their car, the energy bill that's about to drop on their mat, whether their kids are being properly taught at school and whether mum or granny is getting decent treatment at the local hospital.

For those people, renegotiation feels like the safe option; the diplomatic, reasonable course to take. It won't be hard for the 'in' campaign to persuade them that it is. Heck, even a sizeable chunk of the Parliamentary Conservative party holds that view.

By contrast, attempting renegotiation before holding a straight 'in'/'out' referendum (which is exactly what this amendment proposes) would substantially bolster the 'out' campaign. It would allow them to legitimately argue that renegotiation had been tried, but wasn't enough. In the eyes of the public, leaving the EU would no longer be a radical move, but the next logical step to take.

This is why the Eustice amendment is not a wrecking amendment - and should be supported by all who would like to see Britain leave the EU.

Donna Edmunds is Director of Research at Progressive Vision (@ProgVis), a libertarian think-tank. She tweets at @DonnaInSussex   

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