In a remarkably reserved piece on EUReferendum.com, Dr Richard North, writes about the British legacy media’s “humiliating retreat from journalism”. This, to mind mind, is to seriously understate the depth of the problem that afflicts Britain’s “fourth estate”. The thought that the legacy news-media are even in the business of journalism gives many of those “above the line” too much credit. Open a newspaper or turn on a television set and one rarely alights upon reasonable men and women discussing and debating the issues of the day. Far more common is the spectacle of verbal sadists bashing seven bells out of anybody who does not accept the establishment point of view.
Regrettably, the analysis that these people provide is even worse. Ignoring the fact that a June 2016 referendum cannot and therefore will not happen, Iain Martin recently wrote an article for CapX in which he calls for precisely that. The basis for the recommendation is his perception that the Prime Minister will not be able to successfully secure the “fundamental change” that was his stated aim at the start of the EU “renegotiation”.
For an indication as to why a 2016 referendum was unlikely—before it became next to impossible—one need only read none other than Iain Martin, writing in The Telegraph in May 2015. There, Mr Martin tells us: “The word is that the pro-EU Mr Llewellyn [the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff] favours attempting a quicker renegotiation, capitalising on Mr Cameron’s electoral honeymoon and enabling the EU to sign off on a deal later this year or early next. That would mean a referendum in the spring of 2016”.
This, it will not have escaped anybody’s notice is almost precisely what Mr Martin suggests should happen in his latest piece for CapX, in which Mr Martin explains: “When the Prime Minister announced before the last election that he planned a renegotiation and then a vote on the results, it was possible a two-speed EU would be properly on offer. That moment of opportunity is gone. The referendum is what it is – in or out, remain or leave. It is time for the UK government to get on with it, so that Britain (and Europe) can get on with what comes afterwards.”
In his earlier piece for The Telegraph, however, Mr Martin also hinted at an alternative course. Alerting his readers to the fact that a “minimal renegotiation, with so few concessions” could lead the Prime Minister to be compared with Harold Wilson, who conducted a “sham renegotiation” (Mr Martin’s words) ahead of the vote in 1975, Mr Martin informs us: “Not for the first time, the Treasury takes a different view from No 10 and is pushing ministers to play it long if necessary… George Osborne, I understand, agrees. Furthermore, the Chancellor is arguing, quite rightly, that there is a genuine chance here of securing a historic prize, the fabled two-tier European Union, with an inner core of countries in the eurozone integrating more closely (as the Germans want) while the outer tier gets a looser arrangement that still preserves the single market, a British creation”.
Leaving aside the absurd assertion that the Single Market was “a British creation”, placing the two articles—the first published in May 2015 and the second published in December 2015—side by side, one is inclined to wonder what it was that convinced Mr Martin that the “historic prize” of a two-tier European Union is no longer on offer?
Could it be that Mr Martin has failed to observe that Mr Cameron’s proposals for “reform” accord precisely with the framework for the “associate membership” position, most recently described by Spinelli Group member, Guy Verhofstadt, for the benefit of Channel Four News viewers? Has Mr Martin, a man who says that he has read EUReferendum.com “many times”, not noted the numerous references to “associate membership”—and Mr Cameron’s likely framing of the deal as “a British model of membership”—made by Dr Richard North on that website and echoed on like-minded blogs?
Maybe Mr Martin did not understand what he was writing in May 2015, when he highlighted the Chancellor’s desire to go long on the “renegotiation” and hold the referendum in the later half of 2017. Maybe Mr Martin is unaware that the Prime Minister’s proposals mesh almost exactly with a pre-existing EU plan to create a two-tier EU in which Britain is a second-class member. Or Maybe Mr Martin is indulging in a bit of expectation management.
Perhaps the following sentence from Mr Martin’s CapX article suggests an answer (my emphasis):
It is going to come down to a binary choice between staying in the European Union, largely unchanged because serious reform on the British model is unlikely, and leaving to forge a new, looser relationship with our European partners.
Whether or not Mr Martin is truly incapable of seeing what is as plain as the nose on his face, I do not see why such an individual should be regarded as a serious Brexit commentator.