Two Years To An EU Referendum

It’s been quite a while since I’ve enjoyed an election like I did last night. There were many highlights; the complete collapse of the unprincipled Lib Dems, Ed Davey losing his seat, Ed Balls losing his, the collapse of Labour in Scotland, that we will lose three party leaders in just one day, and that the pollsters got it completely wrong. For them it’s a rerun of 1992. Against all predictions, bar the exception of a couple of bloggers, the Tories have won an outright majority.

The real significance is with a Tory majority Cameron will have to come good on his promise of an EU referendum in 2017. With a tiny majority which give his backbenchers a lot of power there can be no question of him reneging on this promise.

When I began this blog I never dreamed that the opportunity of actually leaving the EU would happen so soon. Thus among all the recriminations from various parties, including from UKIP who managed to lose a seat despite increasing its share of the vote, this for genuine eurosceptics is the real winner from the election results.

We have two years to prepare, the real hard work starts now.

Advertisements

Polling Day: Spoiling The Ballot Paper

We arrive at polling day after what has to be one of the most lacklustre and uneventful election campaigns in recent memory despite that the result is too close to call. Here we agree with Scribblings From Seaham that it has “felt to be an interminable farce of a general election”.

With a deep reluctance to deal with issues which matter to voters, a lack of policies of any substance and a largely staged television campaign with a reliance on pointless stupid gimmicks is it any wonder that 1 in 4 voters have yet to make up their minds by polling day.

I’m one of those 1 in 4 and when I began to write this blog piece on why, I realised I was repeating many of the points I had made 5 months ago. Here I wrote:

Voting for the Tories – a party that has consistently betrayed its country, its members and its voters – is somewhat nauseating and is something I’ve never done before. This blog has never really forgiven the Tories for Maastricht and particularly the membership of the ERM. To vote for them would take a Herculean effort and the intake of industrial quantities of intoxicating substances.

And

Then there’s UKIP. Yet it has been increasingly this blog’s view that under its current leadership UKIP is detrimental to Eurosceptic cause – a party which has also performed copious u-turns within a very short space of time on the whim of its leader.

More damaging is UKIP remains largely a single issue party but instead of being anti-EU it is now anti-immigrant and is being described as such. By reducing EU membership solely down to an aggressive stance on immigration, toxifies the debate, limits itself to dismissing an exit strategy which could actually win us a referendum and leaves itself very exposed to being outflanked by Cameron on Article 48.  

Perhaps if I lived in a marginal Tory seat then I would have to grit my teeth and vote Tory for the first time to ensure a referendum. But I don’t. I live in a seat where Tory PPC/MP “Lazy Vaizey” has his votes weighed not counted. How I vote won’t make any difference to the outcome, a situation common among many voters.

With UKIP, despite that my local candidate is very good, I cannot endorse a party which is helping us to lose the eurosceptic argument with YouGov now reporting a 12-point lead for the “inners”, up two points since April.

So unable to vote for any of the options available it’s for the first time in a General Election that I have spoiled my ballot paper (see above) and I’m not the only one.

I simply can’t wait for the whole charade to be out of the way to see if the Tories will win an overall majority. If so we get an EU referendum and then the real work starts.

Why A 2015 EU Referendum Cannot Happen.

As noted in the Independent last Sunday, Nigel Farage has indicated that he will support a minority Conservative Government if Prime Minster David Cameron promises a referendum in 2015:

“The terms of my deal with the Tories would be very precise and simple. I want a full and fair referendum to be held in 2015 to allow Britons to vote on being in or out of the European Union. There would be no wiggle room for ‘renegotiation’ somewhere down the line’.

“The EU is facing an existential crisis and, given that it only takes a few weeks to launch and organise a referendum, it should be held in 2015.”

Although we would largely agree with the sentiments of a “full and fair” referendum, we would take issue with the “very precise and simple” demand that a referendum should be held in 2015 and “given that it only takes a few weeks to launch.” For the very precise and simple reason that it can’t be done. Farage is offering impossible terms on the practicality of timescale.

To support Farage’s demands comparisons are sometimes made with the 1975 referendum where it is claimed that it is possible to have a referendum in a few weeks, the timeline often quoted is as follows:

December 1974: Harold Wilson requests renegotiation of EEC membership terms.

European Council agreed to new terms for UK in Dublin by 11 March 1975 and renegotiation largely ended.

26 February 1975: White Paper announcing referendum to be held after result of renegotiation was known

26 March 1975: Referendum Bill published.

31 March 1975: White Paper setting out the results of the renegotiation of the UK membership of the EC.

9 April 1975: after a three-day debate on the Government’s recommendation to continue Britain’s EC membership, the Commons voted 396 to 170 to continue in Common Market on the new terms. At the same time Government drafts Referendum Bill, to be moved in case of a successful renegotiation.

On 22 April 1975 the House of Lords approved continued membership by 261 votes to 20.

Post-legislative referendum held 5 June 1975. Referendum not directly related to White Paper on renegotiation, but preamble referred to renegotiation. Question much broader: “Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?” The result was 67 per cent in favour on a 65 per cent turnout.

As we can see in 1975 the passage through Parliament to holding a referendum took circa 10 weeks (26 March – 5 June) from publishing the Bill to holding the Referendum. The 1975 Referendum book though notes (p.66):

“But the real reason for the unexpectedly easy passage of the Bill was political: pro-Marketeers were in an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons and they had belatedly realised that the referendum would go their way.”

Even with an easy passage it still took two and half months to have a referendum. The election in 2015 is in May, then there’s a summer recess so we can expect it to take longer. Especially when we consider that due to the complexity of an EU that has significantly evolved in over 40 years of UK membership and the less certainty of a referendum result, that its passage through Parliament will be more turbulent and difficult.
 
We have noted before regarding trying to win a referendum, 1975 is not 2015. The country has moved on in forty years. Procedures are now different, for example in 1975 the campaign started in January 1975 long before the Referendum Bill had been passed – with self-appointed “umbrella” groups.

However unlike 1975 referendums are now the responsibility of the Electoral Commission, which was established under Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Thus on that alone the timescale in comparison to 1975 has changed.

With the establishment of the Electoral Commission it means that campaigning groups can’t begin to officially campaign until they submit bids for the official “in” and “out” campaign and have been approved. This process cannot happen until after the referendum bill becomes law.

There has to be a reasonable period to allow the Electoral Commission to invite submissions and make the designation, and then the lead organisations must be given time to organise themselves.

As we can see from the Electoral Commission December 2014 report on the Scottish Independence Referendum held on 18 September 2014, it recommends (my emphasis):

… that in planning for any future referendums, not only in Scotland but also those held across or in other parts of the UK, governments should aim to ensure that legislation (including any secondary legislation) is clear at least six months before it is required to be implemented or complied with by campaigners, the Chief Counting Officer, Counting Officers or Electoral Registration Officers.

Thus “a reasonable period” according the Electoral Commission amounts to six months, as it argues to allow for (again my emphasis):

The benefit of this additional time was passed on to campaigners, EROs and COs in preparing for their respective roles at the referendum:

Campaigners were able to engage constructively with the legislative process and had time to develop an understanding of the relevant guidance and rules, before they came into force. EROs and COs benefitted from sufficient time to put robust plans in place for the delivery of their responsibilities under the legislation, from targeted public awareness activity to the booking of polling places and the training of staff.

In addition the Electoral Commission also recommends (again my emphasis):

2.39 Following the 2011 referendum on additional powers for the National Assembly for Wales and the Parliamentary Voting System for the House of Commons, we recommended that for future referendums the detailed rules should be clear at least 28 weeks in advance of polling day, based on a statutory regulated referendum campaign period of 16 weeks.

Although the Electoral Commission cannot demand, where it recommends will be taken into account should there be a challenge to the Bill and it goes to a Judicial Review as undoubtedly it would should there be any form of corner cutting or fast-tracking.

Yet even with a relatively smooth process by the Electoral Commission’s recommendations there would be a ten month delay between an Act of Parliament and a vote: that obviously takes us well into 2016.

In addition Farage thinks he can determine the referendum question:

 “Do you wish to be a free, independent sovereign democracy?”

Despite the fact that the Electoral Commission has already put forward its proposals for the referendum questionits full report is here, Farage’s suggestion wouldn’t even pass the unambiguity test let alone the neutral one.

At this point I don’t know what to conclude. Either Farage is very poorly briefed which is a reflection on a lack of a decent research department despite having (now) 22 very well paid MEPs or he knows this and is deliberately demanding conditions that Cameron (or indeed anyone else) cannot possibly meet.

The latter of course allows UKIP to put forward the criticism that Cameron cannot be trusted which conveniently helps prop up Farage’s position. If one is to be cynical there’s nothing better than having a perpetual enemy to oppose to justify your own existence, especially in the absence of any party polices.

Either way the eurosceptic movement is being very poorly served by UKIP.

Leaders’ Debates: UK Democracy’s Failings In Plain Sight

Within our ‘representative democracy’ expressed by so-called Parliamentary sovereignty the idea of Prime Minister debates, first instigated in 2010, is absurd if not downright objectionable.

The electorate in a General Election do not vote for the PM, instead they vote for their local MP which helps form a Parliament from which a Prime Minster is chosen.

One often consistent criticism of Gordon Brown’s tenure up until the 2010 election was that he was ‘not elected’. But of course he was elected – by the constituents of Kirkcaldy and by members of his own party – it was that he simply didn’t have an electoral mandate (as neither did Major for example in 1990). Brown’s position was less a reflection of the failings of himself and more a reflection of the failings of current Parliamentary system.

More seriously the lack of separation of powers represents a system where MPs become hopelessly compromised – by default. After being elected for 5 years their main objective is to achieve a ministerial career rather than attempt to hold the government to account. They want to join the government not listen to their constituents; which one pays more…?

The constituents of Witney, Doncaster and Sheffield will know this best – their own MPs wear two contradictory hats, a situation that Witterings from Witney knows only too well.

And with this in mind we see Cameron and Miliband, among others, engage in unedifying comments regarding a leadership debate without so much as a by-your-leave to the rest of us:

Did you notice that the letter sent to David Cameron about disputed formats for the election TV debates was itself a delicate contribution to pariah politics? Though identical in contents, as Rowena Mason explains, the missives were dispatched separately by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage. Ed and Nick did not sign the same letter as Nigel, oh dear no.

Thus it’s acutely apparent that the entire idea of leadership debates is an admission by the establishment that Parliament is failing and that we, as an electorate, are now effectively voting for the executive – the government and the Prime Minister – by proxy.

This becomes even more (offensively) absurd when we consider that Nigel Farage, although leader of UKIP, is not currently an elected MP even though his party has two elected MPs and Farage himself is currently not on course to win South Thanet seat in May.

Thus more than ever the case becomes stronger that we need to directly elect our Prime Minister – and as a consequence separate out more formally the executive from Parliament. This idea is nothing new, it was proposed back in the 18th Century by Thomas Paine. Although born in England, via Common Sense, he was one of the fiercest critics of what he regarded as British tyranny.

The current, and rather childish standoffs over a Prime Ministerial leadership debate merely confirm that such reform is now very long overdue.

Happy New Year

With 2014 now drawing to a close here at TBF towers we would like to wish all our readers a happy and prosperous 2015.

2015 has the potential of being rather interesting for eurosceptics with the impending general election in May (has it really been nearly five years since the last one…?). For us this may (or may not) prove to be a watershed in terms of the UK’s membership of the EU and a promised referendum by Cameron should he win an overall majority.

Yet for the first time in decades, where the outcome of an election could have been confidently predicted, the 2015 general election is proving, so far, too hard to call. The Tories haven’t yet achieved the 6% lead required just to have a majority, but Labour has its own problems being saddled with a leader who is clearly not a credible Prime Minister in waiting. Then we factor in the possible collapse of the Lib Dems and the rise of the “UKIP effect”.

Perhaps the tight nature of the election reflects a national populace who have a low opinion of politicians overall, are expressing general apathy towards the process and see little difference between the bigger parties.

Eurosceptics though have a dog in the fight, namely Cameron’s promise of a referendum on UK membership. As it currently stands anything less than a Tory overall majority denies us a potential referendum. This position may change in due course given that a week is long time in politics so just under six months is an eternity. Labour may also promise a referendum nearer the time. Anything can happen and this is particularly true of UKIP.

As we approach May, UKIP will inevitably face the traditional two party squeeze but it also faces other internal issues which have been seeping out in recent months. While newspapers have been conducting their usual summary and reflection of the year just past – the ‘rise of UKIP’ being one of them – it has been a very bad couple of months for the party. Bad headlines regarding allegations of unwelcome sexual harassment, racism and other shenanigans have led to a significant drop in poll ratings in recent weeks.

It is also true that what is emerging are internal tensions if not yet outright civil war within the party. The latest example being a leaked document reported by the Daily Mirror:

Ukip chiefs hired a City barrister to keep “bad stuff” hidden from the public, leaked documents show.

National executive committee meeting minutes from June 2013 detail how Matthew Richardson became Ukip secretary.

They state Mr Richardson’s role as party secretary would be deciding “whether to take injunctions out” when Ukip is criticised in the media.

The minutes state: “We need to ensure all of the bad stuff is kept out of the public domain.

“As party secretary (Mr Richardson) would try to ensure that we keep a tight reign on things.”

The revelation is damaging for Ukip chief Nigel Farage, who tries to present his party as a ‘people’s army’ which does not indulge in typical Westminster spin.

With further ‘leaks‘ today, can the party manage to hold itself together before May, only time will tell.

All in all though it leaves us with something of a dilemma. Voting for the Tories – a party that has consistently betrayed its country, its members and its voters – is somewhat nauseating and is something I’ve never done before. This blog has never really forgiven the Tories for Maastricht and particularly the membership of the ERM. To vote for them would take a Herculean effort and the intake of industrial quantities of intoxicating substances. Having checked just to make sure, we discover that voting while inebriated isn’t illegal:

I’ve been in the pub and feel drunk. Can I vote?

Yes. Polling station staff cannot refuse a voter simply because they are drunk or under the influence of drugs. However, if the presiding officer suspects you are incapable of voting you will be asked a series of questions to determine whether you are up to the task of casting your ballot. If the voter cannot answer satisfactorily they will be told to come back when they’ve sobered up.

Then there’s always the risk that Cameron won’t deliver – he certainly doesn’t want one and only promised under political duress. Raw political calculation though suggests he won’t have a choice but to deliver – he would be removed as leader and PM before we could say 1922. And his recent Article 48 proposal gives a very stong hint that he is already preparing for a referendum campaign should he win outright in May. Personally I have an additional advantage in that having access to the full version of Oxfordshire’s electoral roll means I know where he lives should he renege…

Then there’s UKIP. Yet it has been increasingly this blog’s view that under its current leadership UKIP is detrimental to Eurosceptic cause – a party which has also performed copious u-turns within a very short space of time on the whim of its leader. Witterings from Witney notes yet another ‘policy’ inconsistency within UKIP.

More damaging is UKIP remains largely a single issue party but instead of being anti-EU it is now anti-immigrant and is being described as such. By reducing EU membership solely down to an aggressive stance on immigration, toxifies the debate, limits itself to dismissing an exit strategy which could actually win us a referendum and leaves itself very exposed to being outflanked by Cameron on Article 48.

And despite UKIP policy in the last 5 or 6 years, in so much as they have one, on demanding that Cameron promise a referendum, UKIP due to its disproportionate effect on Tory votes will deprive the party of victory which is so far the best chance we’ve got. ‘Vote UKIP and let Labour in’, is more than a soundbite. Although in terms of Prime Ministerial ability preferring Cameron to Miliband as Prime Minister is akin to wishing to be run over by a car doing 29mph instead of 30mph illustrating if one was needed what a mess our current system of governance is in.

But then, like many others, I live in a safe seat – in my case Tory – it matters little what I think…my vote is largely an irrelevance. So a spoiled ballot maybe an option which will have no impact on the outcome whatsoever and saves me from dilemmas.

Thus the UKIP sentiment of ‘sod the lot‘ is understandable, although perhaps a better way maybe of annoying the establishment is for them to lose an in/out referendum. Oh the delights of seeing europhiles such as Howe, Clarke and the ungracious Mandelson (20mins in) weeping quietly into their state-subsidised drinks as a reaction to a successful “out” vote victory persuades me that dislike of the Tories is outweighed much more by the dislike of our EU membership and the lies that have gone with it.
 
So decisions, decisions decisions.

And with that thought in mind happy new year to you all…

Cameron, Article 48 And Donald Tusk

Little noticed or mentioned by the UK media but yesterday was the last day of the outgoing President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy. It’s interesting that a quick Google news search shows mainly non-UK media outlets at the top of the list reporting the news. Clearly with no obvious “UK flag” to put on the story it gets tucked away unnoticed in the UK.

The lack of coverage provides a stark contrast to 5 years ago when van Rompuy was first chosen for the job. Then we had much salivation by the UK media over whether Tony Blair would be chosen for the job. A prospect that was always a non-starter.

So today we have a new President, and Van Rompuy’s replacement is Poland’s Donald Tusk:

Poland’s Donald Tusk takes over as European Council president Monday, the first person from the former Soviet-dominated east to take a top Brussels role, with a mandate to revive the economy and deal with a resurgent Russia

Tusk will be a different proposition, with his roots in Poland’s anti-communist Solidarity trade union, at a time when the European Union faces a mounting challenge from Russia over Ukraine.

However why this matters to the UK, and more specifically to Cameron, is Tusk is Polish and he has previous with Cameron over immigration:

The Polish prime minister has lashed out at David Cameron’s calls to scrap the overseas payments of child benefit for the children of UK-based immigrants, calling them “unwarranted and unacceptable”.

Speaking at a press conference, Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s centre-right government, vented Polish anger over the Prime Minister’s proposals made in a speech on Sunday that singled out Poles, and promised Poland would veto the changes to EU treaties the proposed adjustments to child benefit laws would require.

As we noted in our previous piece for Cameron to achieve treaty changes via Article 48 he has to have the approval of the other 27 member states at a European Council and here we can expect likely objections to Cameron’s proposal to limit immigration to come from countries such as Poland.

But first Cameron’s proposals have to be put on the European Council agenda for it to be put to the vote. And the agenda is set by the President. And the President is now Polish.

Cameron’s attempt at using Article 48 to remove himself from a hook has just become far more difficult.

The EU Game Cameron Plays

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when it comes to all matters EU, Cameron – the cast iron Prime Minister – is not to be trusted.

Yet he is also a man under political pressure not only from his own party but what he perceives as the UKIP threat for his general election chances. This is evident with his 2017 referendum promise which was made under duress while he had previously been anxious to avoid one at all costs.

So as we enter the final straight leading up to May 2015 we had a much-hyped speech on immigration yesterday. Its purpose not only to try to win the election but form the basis of winning an EU referendum in 2017.

In his speech we had the typical Cameron flourishes which were a rehash of his “commitments” over the Lisbon Treaty. With Lisbon he was repeatedly asked what would happen if it was ratified by all member states before he came to power. “We won’t let matters rest there” was his response, which as we all know, letting matters rest there was precisely what he did. A U-turn that almost certainly cost him the 2010 election.

Yesterday we had a variation of the same theme.

If our concerns fall on deaf ears and we cannot put our relationship with the EU on a better footing, then of course I rule nothing out.

Cameron repeated the “I rule nothing out” during the questions and answers session which followed his speech. Cameron hinting he would consider exit but not actually specifying it and we think it’s fair to assume that he won’t.

However the more interesting point concerned how Cameron was going to attempt to wriggle himself out of the hole which he has very firmly plonked himself in, namely that any reforms to satisfy eurosceptics needs treaty change and that can’t be done in the two years he proposed, if at all.

Cameron acknowledged during the Q&A session following his speech that his whole package required treaty change (my transcript):

Guardian: Patrick Wintour from the Guardian. You’ve cited Open Europe in your speech. Open Europe’s figures show that even if you’re on the minimum wage and you lose your tax credits a Pole or a Bulgarian will still have a financial incentive to come to the UK. Why are you sure that these measures will repel people from coming to the UK and secondly does this require Treaty change in your mind

Cameron: The answer to the second question is yes. These changes taken together they will require some Treaty changes. There’s a debate in Europe about exactly which bits of legislation which bits of the Treaty you’ll need to change but there’s no doubt this package as a whole will require some Treaty change. And I’m confident we can negotiate that.

Such arguments have been made often on the internet so it’s refreshing to see Cameron finally and publicly coming to the same conclusion. It’s also interesting that his numerous references to Open Europe effectively outs it as the europhile organistion that it is and that its own purpose is to keep the UK in the EU.

So…how to remove himself from a hole? Well we get a very clear indication of how he is attempting to do it from the superb analysis by Richard North of Cameron’s speech:

What the Prime Minister has done is narrow down the “reform” spectrum to cover one subject, and one subject only – immigration. To be more specific, it has been narrowed down to freedom of movement.

This has a number of positives for Cameron. By linking the freedom of movement to the issue of benefits, has made Cameron try to look somewhat tougher on both. Then by concentrating largely on immigration he’s turning his fire on UKIP.

With UKIP exiting the EU arena and going for the anti-immigrant vote as its sole purpose, topped off by an all round aggressive undertone that by Farage’s admission alienates half the electorate, it’s an understandable strategy from Cameron. It’s not the definite “ins” or the definite “outs” which matter, it’s the more sensitive “don’t knows”, “couldn’t care less”, and “could be persuaded either way” votes which win a referendum.

Thus by proposing what “appears” to be more a moderate sensible solutions to a concerned electorate rather than one of a more robust and alienating policy of repatriation (nevermind confusion) it would leave UKIP with nowhere else to go. It’s a similar scenario to countries such as Cuba whose economy used to rely mainly on one export- sugar. Any failure for whatever reason in the product and you’re buggered.

Another positive for Cameron is that there are mechanisms within EU membership which are “already possible without treaty change, or even additional EU legislation“. Those which do require treaty change conveniently can be achieved via Article 48 without the need for an IGC (Intergovernmental Conference):

…Article 48 – which deals with treaty change – also allows for a “simplified procedure”. Potentially, this would allow the procedure to be completed on a rainy afternoon in Brussels, perhaps on the margins of a European Council. There is, though, a small condition. The changes permissible are confined to Part Three of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which, just as it happens, include freedom of movement. Against all the odds, therefore, Cameron could pull off a quickie treaty and come home in triumph, waving a piece of paper.

What we can see here therefore is Cameron relying on the rather misleadingly named “self-amending” parts of the Lisbon Treaty. He will attempt to return from ‘negotiations’ claiming he’s reformed the EU via Article 48, in this Cameron is attempting to do “a Chamberlain“. It’s as transparent as it’s dishonest.

However there are also some significant negatives with Cameron’s strategy. The hurdles for Cameron are not over. Article 48 is limited to what it can and can’t do and it cannot just change the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) on a whim as and when, despite some of the eurosceptic rhetoric.

While Article 48 by-passes the need for a complex full-blown EU treaty and an IGC, any amendments still require the UK Parliament’s permission (along with the other 27 member states):

The amendments shall enter into force after being ratified by all the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

And under Article 48.7 we can see an implicit approval clause

Any initiative taken by the European Council on the basis of the first or the second subparagraph shall be notified to the national Parliaments. If a national Parliament makes known its opposition within six months of the date of such notification, the decision referred to in the first or the second subparagraph shall not be adopted. In the absence of opposition, the European Council may adopt the decision. 

In short it means Parliament always agrees to amendments unless it specifically objects within a certain time period. Therefore as we can see from Article 48 the key point is that Parliament still has a say in any potential amendments to the Lisbon Treaty.

Thus we could be in an interesting position where Cameron’s much fabled “piece of paper” is rejected by Parliament. Realistically this is unlikely. With all main parties supporting EU membership, the likelihood is Parliament will support it, but with lots of pantomime – Labour and the Lib Dems complaining it didn’t go far enough. Here would be a repeat of ERM membership – all parties supported it, for example Labour as represented by a future Chancellor known as Gordon Brown in 1990 although their criticisim was that membership didn’t go far enough:

We needed an investment Budget to deal with the problems of training in industry, a Budget that would pave the way for negotiations to enter the European monetary system [ERM], a Budget that would do something about the problems that industry now faces, with investment flat and falling away.

While permission from the UK parliament maybe assured, Cameron also requires unanimity within the European Council as this Parliamentary document makes clear in its conclusions; “…any Treaty revision by means of simplified procedures, and any changes to decision procedures by means of passerelles, will be subject to veto by the Government in the European Council or Council of Ministers.”

Thus initially Cameron has to have the approval of the other 27 member states, via the European Council and then via their own respective individual parliaments as well. Here we can probably expect likely objections to Cameron’s proposal to limit immigration to come from countries such as Poland or Romania both of which have a veto (a proper one unlike a phantom one).

Another difficulty for Cameron is, and one that has always been present, if the UK requests too much then it leads to other countries demanding concessions as well. And has always been the way through the horse trading (and consensus) which typifies EU politics the UK will give up more than it achieves.

So it is more than likely that Cameron’s package will be whittled down to non committal “declarations”, “protocols” and “technicalities”. All accompanied by theatre, marching bands and cheerleaders…but no substance. Wilson’s “New Zealand butter” writ large. All helpfully promoted by our europhile media.

Encouragingly, and somewhat revealingly, while Cameron acknowledged Norway was a part of the single market he did not specifically mention during his speech that it was “governed by fax” which he has been prone to do in the past. This is possibly a new development. And so we wonder if Witterings from Witney’s meeting with Cameron in August on this and other matters (coupled with Owen Paterson’s recent speech) had a far more reaching resonance than we might have fully appreciated. Certainly Cameron has not used the phrase since. Instead he noted:

Those who argue that Norway or Switzerland offer a better model for Britain ignore one crucial fact: they have each had to sign up to the principle of freedom of movement in order to access the single market and both countries actually have far higher per capita immigration than the UK.

Which seems to suggest the Prime Minister knows full well (or has been informed by one of his constituents) that we can have single market access without being members of the EU, thus removing ourselves from the political union baggage which he claims he wants to do. It appears that we are beginning to establish the Norway option within the public debate.

Rather incoherently he then argues that EEA membership is not an acceptable option because it has to sign up to the principle of freedom of movement, but at the same time argues that within the EU and the single market he can negotiate restrictions. A claim that becomes even more absurd when the EEA agreement, under Articles 112-3, allows greater scope to place restrictions on immigration.

And further danger emerges for Cameron that by narrowing his reforms down to one issue he risks alienating those who wish “further and deeper reforms” such as big business represented by the likes of the CBI or members of his own side. It’s also a tacit admission from the Prime Minister that he has somewhat painted himself into a corner – he has nowhere else to go either.

With this in mind we increasingly wonder if Cameron has simply just changed the hooks on which he has impaled himself and in this he is entirely beatable.