This week’s politics have been dominated by the economy. The GDP figures will lead to further measures to promote growth, and to much more debate about where we are heading. Meanwhile, business on the floor of the Commons has been dominated by the government’s EU Bill.
The Bill was meant as reassurance to Eurosceptics. It aims to reassert UK Parliamentary sovereignty. It does so by pointing out in law that the EU only has powers in the UK thanks to Acts of Parliament. It offers a “referendum lock”, binding this and future governments to hold a referendum if certain future transfers of power are desired by the UK government and the EU.
The debates have been remarkable for the absence of any Liberal Democrat or front bench Labour federalist making a case for more EU power, or even justifying convincingly the amount of EU power there already is. Eurosceptics have made all the running, tabling all the amendments, making all the suggestions for improvement and strengthening the law, and winning all the arguments. Sometimes it is the Minister who makes the Eurosceptic case. Often it is an active Conservative backbencher who does so, urging Ministers to go further. In one important case over a possible future transfer of criminal justice powers, Ministers have agreed to improve the Bill following such backbench pressure.
However, the cruel logic of the arithmetic reminds us daily that the British people elected a pro EU Parliament. Whenever Eurosceptic Conservatives push their proposals to a vote to increase Parliament’s grip over the EU or to widen the number of issues which would require a referendum, they are heavily defeated as Labour and Liberal Democrats have no wish to make any such changes to the Bill. UKIP, of course, makes no contribution whatsoever to these important matters, as there is no single UKIP member elected to do so. UKIP will just criticise from outside that none of this is sufficient. What we need is votes inside, and only Conservatives can supply those.