John Kampfner, editor of The New Statesman, writes a halfway decent piece in the Telegraph today, under the heading, "Gordon Brown hopes EU question will go away".
Kampfner's thesis certainly strikes a chord when he describes the issue as, "like a nagging toothache." It has dogged governments of all colours for the past two decades, he writes, and "The vexed question of Britain's place in Europe is now affecting Gordon Brown, little over two months after his arrival at Number 10."
As Kampfner warms to his theme, we do however get a strong sense of déjà vu as Brown is painted as torn between wishing to pursue his domestic agenda yet being required to attend to the EU treaty, "…an issue that he is not remotely passionate about."
Thus, as we observed at the end of August, when we wrote of those, "...poxy European integrationalists who, like fractious, spoilt children, demand our attention when all we really want is for them to go away – permanently," Brown too is lumbered with the spoilt chidren who will "scweam and scweam" until they get their way.
Like any harassed parent, the easy way out is to give in, and sign the treaty, against which Brown must measure the political pain he will suffer on the domestic front from so doing – and from the Euro-luvvies in his own cabinet. So far, he must have calculated that the best option for an easy life is to give in.
That, in the final analysis, is what may happen, although Kampfner argues that Brown "will do whatever it takes to get the issue off his back." Looking at it from the prime minister’s point of view, offering a referendum merely prolongs the agony for, if there is a "no", the colleagues will be back, like the spoilt children they are, demanding even more of his time and attention.
If he refuses a referendum, then he will have to take a bit of flak in the short-term but, once the treaty is ratified, the media will pack up their bags and move on to another issue, while Cameron will happily leave well enough alone.
There is, however, one thing that could galvanise the whole debate. That would be a commitment from Cameron that, if the treaty is ratified without a referendum, he would – on election to government – immediately call a referendum and, if there is a "no", to abrogate the treaty.
Since that is not likely to happen, the best guess is that Brown will go for the short-term pain.