The dominant and immediate challenge facing the Coalition Gov't is putting the UK's public finances back in order. It is why the Coalition exists. But the most important issue (and most contentious) facing the House of Commons is the UK's relationship with the EU. Because it is such a 'toxic' issue, party leaders would prefer not to face up to it. Understandable. And I think its true that the public are not that exercised about it. It may still be that the next election is decided on "The Economy Stupid", but I do think the Europe issue will be up there as well.
Lets consider where we are now - or at least where I am. Always been a eurosceptic. Voted for 'Out' in 1975. But I've not been prepared to back a referendum on withdrawal until I believed we had a Prime Minister who would immediately open withdrawal negotiations if the people so voted. That's why I did not join the 'rebellion of 81' last year. Must admit I thought it was a pointless stunt. But things move on and its become clear that the public will have its say. Which is why I've been happy to support what I see as the game-changing commitment by David Cameron to hold a referendum on EU withdrawal in 2017. This was a mighty decision, which sensible Eurosceptics should support. I just cannot understand my colleagues who want a 'mandate' vote of some sort before the next election. What will that prove? What we need is to settle on a definite date, and then talk up the definite commitment.
The purpose of delay until 2017 (just 4 yrs) is that a 'renegotiation' of our relationship should take place. That 'renegotiation' cannot take place unless there is a majority in the House of Commons to act on it. At present there isn't. I hear grumbles about the Prime Minister's strategy from colleagues who lauded it when it was announced - but now want more. Many say the 'renegotiation' will not deliver anything significant - so what's the point. If it doesn't deliver something meaningful, I think the British people may well vote to withdraw. If significant change is agreed, we may vote to remain a member of the EU. Its going to be one hell of a debate after 2015, which will start before the election. In fact its started already.
Even though I voted for 'Out' in 1975, once we were fully signed up, I wanted it to work in the interests of all of our countries. But the integrationists were not content to simply let it work. They wanted to create a 'country called Europe'. And then along came the Euro, which many of us thought to end in disaster. At the time of the Euro's creation, I spoke on panels espousing my view that the Euro would destroy the EU, and may lead to bloodshed in some member countries. I was called an 'extremist'. Doesn't seem so extreme now. That's the trouble with politics. It doesn't stand still. There will alway be a drive to integration which will have to be resisted.
MPs will soon start declaring their hand - though in most cases its unlikely to be definitive until the 'renegotiations' are complete. That's certainly how I feel. What is the price of withdrawal going to be. Will Britain's trading status be undermined? Will Britain have to leave the 'big players ring'? Being the Eurosceptic that I am, my inclination is bound to be to vote for withdrawal from the EU - but I'm pragmatic as well. Four years will pass like the blink of an eye. Time to start thinking about it. And I have not mentioned UKIP at all.