Odds of UK vote on EU membership shorten
THE PROSPECT that British voters could face a referendum on membership of the European Union have shortened considerably, provoked by fears about the impact of euro zone reforms.
A paper released yesterday by former Labour foreign secretary David Owen advocating a referendum received considerable support from Conservative MPs.
A union “reshaped” by measures needed to contain, if not solve, the euro zone crisis would inevitably affect EU countries that are not members of the single currency, chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne indicated.
“I think what the public are concerned about . . . would be if there was any transfer of power. A reshaped relationship with Europe would imply, would involve, a transfer of sovereignty or powers to Brussels,” he said.
Privately, Mr Osborne and other senior Conservatives have for some time been coming around to the view that the Conservative Party will have to offer a referendum pledge of some kind in its manifesto for the 2015 general election.
Tory MPs in marginal constituencies say they are in danger of losing their seats because many traditional Conservative voters will back the UK Independence Party.
Proposals to create a common deposit insurance scheme for euro zone countries would require a treaty change and could affect the UK’s financial services industry, said Mr Osborne.
So far, there is no certainty that any changes involving greater centralisation among euro zone countries would force non-euro states such as the UK to relinquish powers.
In 2010, the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition promised a referendum if the UK signed up to any treaty change that led to such a transfer.
In his paper, Dr Owen proposed a two-part referendum question that would ask voters if they wanted to be part of a single market within a wider European community, or if they wanted to be part of the EU “with a view to joining the euro”.
Other possible permutations are being considered, while there are signals that Labour leader Ed Miliband could offer a straight in-or-out referendum in his election manifesto.