Brussels Outs

Brussels Outs

Forget any notion of a referendum this side of a General Election on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

The Coalition couldn’t agree on it and there’s no way a Bill would be passed through Parliament.

Those pushing for an in-out vote are pinning their hopes on the pledge being included in both Conservative and Labour manifestos for the 2015 election.

David Cameron must grapple with the thorny issue of the EU this week.

The PM will be standing up for the City over dinner with 26 other EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday. His aim is to ensure Britain’s financial services sector isn’t affected by a new attempt to shackle European banks with red tape.

It’s a crunch moment and his own MPs and ministers will be watching to make sure he stands his ground.

Home Secretary Theresa May is also tasked with pulling Britain out of an EU wide agreement which allows foreign police forces to detain British suspects on UK soil.

Education secretary Michael Gove made the Tory position on the EU abundantly clear on Sunday when he said his party could be in favour of pulling out of the EU.

Mr Gove and I once formed a debating team to argue against UK membership of the euro to a group of Fabians in Parliament. I have no doubt where his heart lies on this subject.

The government is about to begin a two year probe into EU membership which will provide cover for the in-out referendum.

It is called the “balance of competences”. Not very snappily-titled.

But its job is to give Mr Cameron the ammunition he needs to rewrite Britain’s relationship with Brussels for the first time in history. Depending on the mood of the country at the time, it could even give him the authority to put a referendum in place.

Each area of EU power will be studied. All firms or organisations who have dealings with the Commission will be asked to say if EU membership is a boon or a burden to their business.

Ivan Rogers, the Premier’s foreign affairs adviser has moved into the Cabinet Office to take charge of this gigantic study.

Every six months it will publish a progress report. This will trigger furious political rows and ratchet up the pressure on the PM – and Ed Miliband – to take a view about the future membership of the EU.

Current thinking around the Premier is to turn the 2015 General Election into a referendum about Britain’s membership of the European Union.

This will not satisfy those in his party who want a specific, stand alone referendum. It will certainly not persuade those planning to vote UKIP in the 2014 European Parliament elections to back the Tories instead.

The PM is keeping his options open on the bigger question, but I’d expect to see the Tories in the Coalition playing much tougher with a weakened Brussels over the coming months.

Part of this is, of course, political positioning.

But on a practical level, the eurozone crisis provides a good opportunity for ministers to grab back powers surrendered in recent years.

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