Lots of publicity this week for David Miliband’s speech saying it was unlikely that a Labour government would promote an EU referendum, but little notice was taken of comments by Lord Taverne, formerly Dick Taverne, a Labour minister in Harold Wilson’s government and subsequently a Lib Dem, who said there was absolutely no chance of David Cameron managing to conclude a meaningful deal with the EU before the Tory party’s planned referendum in 2017 – given that is only three years away.
He made the point that it took Margaret Thatcher five years to negotiate the British budget rebate from the EU, and quoted Lord Kerr, a former UK representative in Brussels speaking in a House of Lords debate, who pointed out that any Cameron-negotiated EU deal would have to go through four distinct stages to have legal certainty within the EU.
First it would need a simple majority of EU members, followed by unanimity in a convention – which last time took a year and a half. The next stage is consensus at an intergovernmental conference, which in the case of Maastricht took a further year. Finally it would have to be ratified by the member states, some of which might also need to organise a referendum to approve of the change, which, given there are 27 member states, would take at least another year.
Lord Taverne concludes that Mr Cameron’s timetable is impossible. Perhaps someone should tell his backbenchers.