Cameron sets UK up for five years of doubt
Q Will the United Kingdom leave the European Union?
Predictions are usually full of froth, and predictions about the UK and the EU are particularly difficult since so much depends, in Harold McMillan’s oft-quoted words, on “events, dear boy, events”.
The best guess for now is that the UK will not leave the EU, though British prime minister David Cameron’s referendum pledge this week has narrowed the odds.
For now, he has soothed the tempers of his Conservative backbenchers who, having got their way on the referendum pledge, would do well to let the matter rest. Obsessives bore the public.
There is little chance of that happening, however. Instead they will gnaw away at Cameron, making ever-greater demands.
For now, Labour’s Ed Miliband has been put on the defensive, following confusion about what he wants and when he will declare his hand.
Most likely, he will have to match the referendum pledge, though he will be concerned about being seen as too “pro-Europe” for some voters.
Unlike many Conservatives, Cameron does not want to quit the EU, but now that he set the hare running he has even less control of events than he had a week ago.
He will likely enter into the 2015 election still unclear as to what he can hope to get in talks.
The issue again raises doubt about Cameron’s ability to deal with the Liberal Democrats if he needs their numbers in the Commons after the British public vote. A much-reduced presence in parliament by the Liberal Democrats – an inevitable outcome of 2015, it would seem for now – may leave Cameron little room for manoeuvre.
Final positions in the Liberal Democrats are taken by the party organisation, not just MPs – many of the grass-roots ideologically lean Labour’s way, not the Conservatives’.
If Cameron has successfully tapped in to the public mood he may have given himself a greater chance of winning a Commons majority in 2015.
Equally, however, he may have increased Miliband’s chances of replacing him – but that does not mean that a referendum will not have to be held. Either way, he has created five years of doubt.