Sunday, June 08, 2008

An entertaining week?

The 42-day "ploy" - if indeed it was that – has not succeeded entirely in driving the EU off the media agenda.

None other than The Sunday Times is taking a keen interest in the Irish referendum after a poll for the Sunday Business Post shows the gap between the two sides continuing to narrow. However, this survey shows 42 percent in favour of the treaty and 39 percent against and, among those certain to vote, the "Yes" side has a 46 to 37 lead.

This is somewhat at odds with another piece in the same paper, which records that the "No" campaign has a five point lead, the article exploring the repercussions if the "Yes" campaign loses.

However, The Sunday Telegraph highlights a poll from Global Vision which finds that, among people who want to remain in the EU, a majority would like Britain to opt out of political and economic union, and restrict itself to links based on trade and co-operation.

That position is obvious incoherent (since achieving the opt outs would necessitate leaving) but Global Vision nevertheless suggests that a British government seeking to achieve such an outcome could only do so by putting it to voters in a referendum. If there were a positive result, ministers would then need to renegotiate the terms of Britain's membership with all other EU member states – a policy currently held by none of the three main political parties.

Voters were asked about their ideal relationship with Europe, with 41 percent choosing one based simply on trade and co-operation. Some 27 percent wanted Britain to stay a full EU member while 26 per cent wanted to withdraw altogether. If the "trade-only" option were offered in a referendum, 64 percent said they would vote in favour. Asked what should happen if Britain sought to negotiate a looser relationship but other nations blocked the move, 57 percent said the UK should leave the EU, while 33 per cent said it should stay in.

The paper also hosts an opinion piece from Lord Blackwell, who tells us that “more than a third of voters across all parties” would be more likely to support a prospective Conservative government that pledged to negotiate a change in our relationship. Only a quarter would be less likely.

To bring the "colleagues" to the table, Blackwell suggests that a government pursuing this path should promise a referendum on the outcome (a second one?), seeking a settlement in Europe "that it can recommend wholeheartedly to the public." If some in Europe tried to frustrate that wish, he says, they would run the risk that a British majority would favour withdrawal from the EU.

Whether a Conservative government would ever put an "in-out" vote to the electorate is another matter, but it is an intriguing idea to demand negotiations against the threat of such a poll.

Interestingly, the Europhiliac Independent stays with the Irish, reporting that Irish voters are expected to reject the Lisbon Treaty in a poll on Thursday. This, says the paper, puts pressure on MPs and peers to halt the ratification process in the UK.

One can hardly accuse this paper of wishful thinking, but the odds are, a "No" vote will not make the slightest difference to the ratification of the treaty – the only points of interest being how precisely the "colleagues" get round it.

Nevertheless, judging from this and other media coverage, it looks like – contrary to expectations - we might be in for an entertaining week on the EU front. It is always a pleasure to hear that the "colleagues" are sh***ing themselves, as The Sunday Times suggests they are – even if that pleasure is only fleeting.

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