Before being told to shut up by Andrew Marr on the Marr Show last Sunday, Prime Minister David Cameron made it clear that an in-out European Union referendum was a red line that he would not compromise on during possible coalition negotiations after the 2015 election. The Prime Minister made a promise that “people should be in no doubt that I will not become Prime Minster unless I can guarantee that we can hold that referendum”, sending a strong message to possible future coalition partners and suggesting that a resignation might be on the cards if he couldn’t deliver.
Although David Cameron is no doubt aiming for an all-out majority at the next general election, another coalition government is increasingly likely and there are no guarantees about what that coalition might look like. The current coalition government has proved many people wrong on the viability of coalition for the British system and the public is no doubt now more ready to accept another one if it comes to that. David Cameron’s red line on the referendum could be
The idea that Nick Clegg could be open to an in-out referendum might be surprising given the strong pro-European Lib Dem stance, but it should not necessarily be seen as a roll over given how invested in the policy David Cameron is. With David Cameron’s political integrity and possibly his job on the line, the Liberal Democrat leader would be in a strong position to exact a high price on his coalition partner. Nick Clegg would be looking to use quid pro quo to push his own agenda on things like ‘fair taxes’, in the same way it was used against him previously on tuition fees. On this morning’s Today programme Clegg argued that it was not the principle of a referendum that he disagreed with but the timing, saying that Cameron’s proposed schedule is “all to do with papering over the cracks in his own party”. This statement could allow for the possibility of Clegg being open to Cameron holding a referendum before the end of 2017.
Nick Clegg argued that an in-out referendum on Europe should only be an option when there is a significant change in “the rules of the game”; as was in his opinion the case with the Lisbon treaty in 2009. The question is whether, in the event of a hung parliament, an offer of another coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would constitute enough of a game changer to make a referendum necessary.
He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
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