Will Anyone Speak for Europe in Britain?
By Denis MacShane
It is more than four months since the election and so far the only senior British leader to speak out for the unity of Europe was Her Majesty the Queen at a banquet in Berlin in June.
As we have seen the prime minister suffered a defeat in the House of Commons after a maladroit attempt to rewrite traditional rules about what ministers can say during the run-up to a national poll.
But the purdah of the weeks before the Remain-Leave referendum is less important than the purdah Mr Cameron has imposed upon himself and his ministers about finding any words that might encourage the nation to believe that membership of the EU is a good thing.
Instead, No 10 tells business leaders to shut up and not say anything positive or to campaign against the bottomless purses of Eurosceptic advocates in the parts of the City or entrepeneurs like Sir James Dyson and Sir Anthony Bamford of JCB who call for a Leave vote.
This runs with the preference of most business leaders who tell opinion polls they shudder at the thought of isolating Britain from Europe but simultaneously say they won’t spend money campaigning for an In or Remain vote.
In the rest of the world referendums demand a simple Yes or No answer. Now a body of unelected officials in the Electoral Commission has unilaterally abolished that norm and proposed a question aound the verbs ‘remain’ or ‘leave’.
This helps those who are arguing that a ‘leave’ vote would not be permanent but simply opening the door to further tougher negotiations which will force 27 other member states of the EU to buckle to Eurosceptic demands.
In the first poll on the Electoral Commission’s wording, the result was a predictable vote to leave the EU. Summer events like the refugee crisis especially its local variant at Calais or the insistence of the ruling centre-right rulers in the EU that the Greeks have to accept decades of poverty in order to stay in the Eurozone have done little to make Europe popular.
It has led Owen Jones, the Lochinvar of left opining and an intimate part of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to write that he will vote No in the referendum in solidarity with the Greeks and to punish the wicked Eurocrats.
The incoming Labour leader has steered clear of Ukip-style Euroscepticism. In instead Mr Corbyn has said he would support the EU on the basis that it increased rights for workers and abolished austerity.
At best Labour might offer free votes and as in the Commons this week will not hesitate to trip up a prime minister who has spent his leadership years criticising the EU and even pulling his party out of the main centre-right European Peoples Party federation.
So who will now campaign for Europe? Who will pay for this campaign? Soon answers will have to be found.
Denis MacShane is a former Minister for Europe in the Tony Blair government and author of Brexit : How Britain Will Leave Europe to be published by IB Tauris