Binary bind, or why this kite won’t fly

We’re going through the “Cameron will promise an in/out referendum” kite-flying exercise again. If anything, it confirms Iain Martin’s point that the Eurosceptic position is splintering into incompatible positions under the pressure of scrutiny.

How many options on the UK’s future European status are there? A non-exhaustive list would be:

  • Mandelson-Blairism: Get back into being properly engaged, with joining the Euro (and hence closer political union) on the table.
  • Milibandism: No prospect of joining the euro but we have to stay influential and keep engaged
  • Cameron-Osbornism: We should try to renegotiate the arrangements we have, but allow the eurozone to unite.
  • Johnsonism: Free-market only, and we should save the eurozone from itself by opposing integration even if they want it.
  • Petit Faragisme: Leave the EU and renegotiate access and free movement in a Norwegian/Swiss kind of way.
  • Grand Faragisme: Leave the EU and put up the border fences, just rely on the WTO and the size of our market to get access to European markets.

I’m sure there are several options I’ve excluded, even aside from the fact that the visions of post-EU UK range from much more regulation and employment protection (Bob Crow) to next to none (most of the Better-Off-Outers).

Now how do you manage those in a “Yes/No” binary format like a referendum?

Of course, the answer is, you can’t. The particular kite flown in this morning’s Times (£) proposes an initial referendum on whether to renegotiate or leave, with a second referendum on whether the renegotiated deal should be accepted.

If you start from the position that no-one could possibly be in favour of the EU, but realpolitik means we have to stay in it, it’s smart politics. Referendums are change-averse instruments, so even with the press in full cry, an all-party yes campaign would probably lead the public to vote “renegotiate” and then “yes” even if the renegotiation was just a fig-leaf.

The problem lies in the fact that not everyone wants a renegotiation, and even fewer will want one when the topics – environmental protection, employment rights and so on – come into focus instead of the fuzzily positive word “renegotiation”.

If you want to stay in and not renegotiate, how are you meant to vote? Answers on a spoiled ballot paper, please.


Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.