As far as David Cameron is concerned, the coming EU referendum is nothing more than his personal plaything, an event to be moved about and manipulated as he pleases in order to achieve the “right” result
One throwaway line in the prime minister’s speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos yesterday captured at a stroke the sheer arrogance and duplicity behind the government’s approach to the EU referendum.
From the Independent’s summary of the speech:
David Cameron has told an audience at Davos that he would walk away from a Brussels summit in February if an agreement can not be reached on the UK’s EU Referendum.
“I want to put that to people in a referendum and campaign to keep people in the European Union. If there’s a good deal, we’ll take it. But if there’s not a good deal, I’m not going to hurry, I can hold my referendum any time until 2017,” Cameron said.
“My referendum”. Not Britain’s referendum. Not the public’s referendum. His referendum. David Cameron’s personal referendum.
Strangely, that might actually be the most honest thing that David Cameron has ever said on the subject of Europe and the coming EU referendum. Because given the fact that this cosmetic “renegotiation” has been taking place behind closed doors, with no formal demands and without any input from the British people themselves, the only fingerprints to be found on the whole rotten affair are indeed those of David Cameron and his ministers.
It is becoming increasingly clear to me (not that there was every any doubt) that this referendum will not be a fair fight – in fact, that it will be about as far away from a fair fight as it is possible to be. Just as Russia holding elections does not make that country a democracy, so the fact that the British people are being offered a Remain/Leave vote on the EU question does not mean that the outcome will be in any way legitimate.
It is possible to go through the rote motions of democracy, but do so without observing the spirit of democracy. And when that happens, neither side has cause for happiness with the outcome. If the Remain side win the referendum, their victory will be hollow, having been won on the back of a campaign built on fearmongering, outright deception and tactical manoeuvring by the government. And if (as currently seems probable) the Leave side loses the referendum, the issue will be far from settled. Many Leave campaigners, having been so blatantly cheated, will continue to rail against the European Union and do everything possible to raise awareness of its flaws and undermine the creaking structure from within. I certainly will.
The continued speculation over when exactly “David Cameron’s referendum” will take place is tedious and dispiriting. It should not be considered naive to hope for a prime minister – a leader – who sets out to do the work of the people, representing them and fighting for their priorities and interests in an honest, transparent manner. But in David Cameron we have a prime minister who gives every appearance of negotiating with the British people (or at least manipulating them) on behalf of the European Union, rather than the other way around.
All of this takes place between David Cameron’s repeated assurances to the European media that he feels “deeply European” from the “bottom of his heart” – either forgetting that in the year 2016 it is not possible to say something while abroad without it instantly filtering back home, or simply no longer caring about enraging eurosceptics by flaunting his own passionately pro-EU position.
Fine. Be that as it may. David Cameron was never a eurosceptic or a supporter of the Brexit cause, and at this point nobody expects anything else from him. But having so obviously sought to stack the deck in order to achieve his desired outcome from the referendum, the prime minister has no right to expect us to shut up and accept a future “Remain” vote when he has interfered with the process and undermined democracy at every turn.
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