As the UKIP bandwagon rolls on, the prospect of UKIP holding the balance of power in the 2015 general election is becoming less and less impossible. Estimates of the numbers of UKIP MPs who could be sitting in Parliament in May next year range from less than 10 to (slightly less convincing) approximations of over 100.
Neither the Conservatives nor Labour seem eager to have to share power with any junior party, both preferring to rule as a minority government if they fail to gain a majority. Nick Clegg – as desperate for power as in 2010 – has made clear he will not prop up a government without a formal coalition and making substantial demands.
Meanwhile, Nigel Farage has already made it clear will not join a coalition with either the Conservatives or Labour next May. Speaking on the BBC however, he did say he would be prepared to support a Tory minority government on key bills and motions of confidence, effectively acting as a crutch for the Tories.
Farage has a price though – in exchange he would expect Cameron to bring forward the In / Out EU Referendum to before next August, allowing less time for Cameron’s ‘renegotiation then referendum’ solution to the EU question. But would we Outers be more likely to win the referendum if it was before 2017?
There would be benefits to bringing the EU referendum forward. There are widespread fears Cameron will do ‘a 1975’ – bringing back minor ‘reforms’ and lauding them as ‘a huge triumph which has entirely transformed our relationship with the EU’. The majority of the Great British Public will not be duped so easily, but if the polls are as tight as they were in Scotland, this could be enough to win the referendum for the Inners.
Cameron has chosen 2017 as the year to conduct the referendum. This is the year in which Britain will hold the Presidency of the EU, meaning several high-profile European meetings will be held in the country that year. Cameron will be parading on the European stage again, chairing a series of important summits which he hopes will act as a powerful aid to the myth that Britain can influence decisions in Brussels.
On the other hand, seeing Cameron’s phoney so-called ‘renegotiations’ fail as spectacularly as they inevitably will, could be a huge boon for the Eurosceptic cause. Whilst our total lack of influence is well known in political circles, facts like British MEPs failing to block 84% of EU legislation between 2009 and 2014 has yet to trickle down to the voter.
Farage’s suggested early referendum might not be deliverable in any case. As Nick Watt pointed out on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, most of the Lords oppose both leaving the EU and having a referendum on the subject. For example, in January they blocked James Wharton’s EU Referendum Bill. A new bill pledging an In / Out Referendum in 2017 is set to come before the Commons this Friday, introduced by Bob Neill MP. If the majority of the Lords vote down the referendum again, Cameron can force the bill through using the Parliament Act to overrule them, although this will delay the referendum by a year.
In spite of this, a July 2015 referendum might be the only way to leave the EU if the Conservatives achieve a minority government. Governments without a majority are notoriously unstable, and it is highly unlikely such a government would be able to last the two years necessary to deliver the referendum, never mind the exit negotiations afterwards.
We have been denied a vote on our being in the EU for almost forty years when we became a member of the European Economic Community (EEC), so it’s high time we had our say.
Luke Stanley is a Research Assistant at Get Britain Out