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David Keighley: Cameron’s EU referendum is a sham that will change nothing


Does anything show the disconnect between the people of the United Kingdom and its political class more than the claptrap now being spouted about a referendum on EU membership?

The reality is that most of our MPs actively want to stay in the EU, or are stuck in a false hall of mirrors in which they think it can be miraculously reformed. They know there is discontent down below, so much sound and fury is being expended in generating an illusion of choice.

But to quote Peter Hitchens: “It’s a trap. A referendum is almost always a device by which governments get the voters to endorse what they wanted to do all along.”

David Cameron, who dreamed up the referendum wheeze two years ago, has spent the past week trying to give the appearance that he will wring major concessions out of his EU counterparts.

Oh yes? Will it be the same sort of brilliant ‘success’ that he and George Osborne secured last autumn? In a major display of puffed feathers, accompanied by PR hype in overdrive, they told us they were rejecting a demand from the EU Commission for an eye-watering £1.7bn surcharge on the UK’s already exorbitant £14bn-a-year contribution to EU coffers.

After a staged ‘summit’ with his fellow economic ministers, the Chancellor claimed a major victory – that he had secured an agreement that ‘halved’ the payment.

Excuse me?  The reality was that because of rebate arrangements heroically secured by Margaret Thatcher two decades earlier, the £1.7bn would never have been payable in full.  All Cameron and Osborne actually secured was an agreement that that the money owed would be paid in two instalments, one delayed until the autumn of this year.

They meekly accepted the premise of the surcharge and – as usual with European Commission demands – have coughed up.

In that vein, the reception from the EU to Cameron’s latest tub-thumping is entirely predictable.  The message from Brussels is loud and clear: that nothing of substance in the way the EU operates is going to change.

Former trade commissioner Pascal Lamy – given acres of airtime by the BBC on Sunday – was the latest EU apparatchik chosen to convey the message: you can change the deck chairs a bit and we will work to help David Cameron to the extent that he seems to have won something, but that’s all. The Treaties are sacrosanct.

Utter contempt for British public opinion was evident in every syllable of Lamy’s interview. The BBC, for its part, thought that this was such an important intervention that it issued a special press release about the exchange.

And that is the blunt, un-renegotiable truth. Nothing of substance is going to change.  Despite Osborne and Cameron’s PR posturing, the referendum increasingly looks like a crude exercise in phony enfranchisement of the sort once regularly held by corrupt South American regimes.

This is a national tragedy. The British people want their country back. They never wanted diluted sovereignty or to be ruled by a faceless army of bureaucrats.   Nor did they ever vote for it; they were conned back in  1975 –as  Peter Hitchens cogently points out here – into thinking they were opting  only to join a customs union.

They don’t want endless laws and directives foisted upon them by the European Commission, and they don’t want ‘ever closer union’. They want instead the United Kingdom to be a vigorous independent country – and, at the moment, a stop to the tide of virtually unregulated immigration that dwarfs anything in British history.

Being a member of the EU means that inexorably, and without possibility of change, our national identity and vigour is being diverted into a crudely-constructed Marxist-socialist political and economic entity that has only one goal: to destroy national identity and arrogate powers to itself.

It is now clear that Cameron’s brand of so-called conservatism does not recognise this and never will. He perpetuates the lie that somehow an organisation that for more than 40 years has trampled with jack-boot relentlessness over every facet of our rights and traditions can somehow be ‘reformed’ because he demands it.

Scratch the surface of his bluster about standing up to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and ‘having talks’ this week with a raft of other European leaders, there is very little there.

What is his agenda? So far, all that has emerged is a desire for a vague tinkering with some of the laws relating to benefits for immigrants, and an aspiration to remove references to ‘ever closer union’ in documents.

So vague and feeble are Cameron’s ‘demands’ that  MEP Dan Hannan feels obliged to point out that more is on offer than he is asking for.

If Cameron was serious about achieving substantial change, he would surely – given that his referendum policy is now more than two years old – have a clear menu of the reforms he is seeking.

As things stand he and his new team of spinners instead appear to be working flat out to create a fog of confusion, probably in the hope that if he wins anything at all – as with his bluster in the  autumn –  it will be regarded as a triumph and he can then hoodwink us into a ‘yes’ vote.

The awful truth is that he might be right in his calculations; the press in general and the BBC in particular seem to go with anything and everything they are spoon-fed.  And even so-called eurosceptics such as John Redwood are going along with it.

There are MPs who want the referendum to be about genuine choice, for example Owen Paterson.  But as things stand, the PR big guns of Tory high command and the Labour Party are swamping their message.

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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