We are told that the Foreign Office Sir Humphrey has asked each government department to report on opportunities (and inevitably for the FO ‘risks’) to repatriate powers from the EU. The fact that every department is involved shows how far the EU’s power intrudes and, of course, the principle of the acquis communitaire implies that once powers are taken by the EU they are not to be returned.
The only way we can even hope to get key powers back from the EU is to confirm that the result of any renegotiation will be put to the British people in a referendum, so that they can decide if they wish to stay in the EU on those terms. Only if there is the prospect of such a referendum will other EU countries or, equally importantly, the Whitehall mandarins, be incentivised to get power back.
Last Monday’s vote was on the principle of an EU Referendum and on this issue Conservative ministers cannot blame the LibDems for not doing what Conservative MPs and the electorate want, and holding a referendum on EU membership. That is because holding such a referendum was LibDem policy prior to the coalition. Indeed, until ten days ago, you could still sign up on the LibDem website to support their campaign for an In/Out referendum.
Some LibDems seemed to split hairs in last Monday’s debate, suggesting that their manifesto promise was for the next time there was a fundamental change in the EU, but Nick Clegg has now confirmed in the Observer that now is such a time, writing:
“the European landscape is about to change. European integration has always evolved in fits and starts, driven by crises and upheaval. Now it’s happening again and the question is: how do we in the UK respond?”
The LibDems answered their leader’s question in their manifesto. There should be a national referendum on EU membership. Last Monday’s debate and vote showed that this is also what Conservative MPs want.
We even now have the perfect opportunity for such a referendum – November 2012 – to coincide with the first elections for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC).
Sir Humphrey is fighting a rearguard action against democratisation of policing, agreeing a Protocol to curtail PCC powers with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) after the police bill was through the House of Commons, and now trying to insist on Whitehall oversight of police budgets. Only a decision to hold a referendum on EU membership, and why not with those PCC elections in November 2012, will get Sir Humphrey to do the people’s bidding.