Thursday

21st Jan 2021

UK referendum vote highlights anti-EU feeling

British MPs have voted against a referendum on EU membership. But Prime Minister David Cameron indicated he will try to claw back EU powers in an upcoming review of the Treaty.

Four hundred and eighty three deputies voted No and 111 voted Yes on Monday (24 October) on holding a referendum on leaving the EU.

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The vote highlighted the strength of anti-EU feeling in the ruling centre-right Conservative Party - Tory member David Nuttal proposed the idea and 81 Tory MPs voted Yes or abstained despite threats they would lose government posts.

"The tentacles of the European Union intrude into ever more areas of our national life ... We have increasingly become run by Europe," Nuttal told parliament in the preceding debate.

Cameron's defence of EU membership was also based on a eurosceptic discourse of national interest.

The Prime Minister said if the eurozone falls apart it would harm UK exporters and banks: "When your neighbour's house is on fire, your first impulse should be to help put out the flames, not least to stop them reaching your own house."

He noted that when the EU last changed its treaty in December - to create the European Stability Mechanism, a permanent rescue fund - the UK negotiated to stay out of EU bail-outs from 2013 and to take no part in the second Greek aid package in order to save money.

Cameron also indicated he will use an upcoming treaty change - to create joint economic governance in the eurozone - to take back EU powers.

"I support your [pro-referendum Tories'] aims. Like you, I want to see fundamental reform. Like you, I want to re-fashion our membership of the EU so that it better serves our nation’s interests. The time for reform is coming," he said. "We do not yet know how much of a treaty change will be proposed by the Germans and others, or how extensive it will be. The pledge I can make is that we will use that opportunity to further the national interest."

Conservatives have in the past said they want to take back EU powers on employment and social legislation.

In any case, Cameron's pledge will come as unwelcome news to fellow EU leaders who are keen to tweak the treaty without opening a Pandora's Box of 27 countries calling for non-euro-crisis-related changes in an intergovernmental conference.

Foreign minister William Hague reinforced Cameron's promise.

"We will use future opportunities to bring further powers back to the United Kingdom - to repatriate powers to the United Kingdom in those areas where we believe European integration has gone too far," he said.

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