Leading article: Another damaging eurosceptic spasm

Related Topics

There is a profound paradox in the coincidence of this week's series of crisis meetings on the single currency in Brussels and today's House of Commons debate on whether a referendum should be held on the UK's membership of the European Union. On the face of it, Britain's eurosceptics have rarely had it so good. They are seeing the EU and its currency threatened as never before. The euro, the apotheosis for many of the European project, is fighting for its life.

The eurosceptics, what is more, have reason to feel vindicated about some of what has come to pass. Some of the very flaws they identified early on in the EU and its currency are chickens that have come home to roost. The difficulties of maintaining a currency union without political and economic union are now clear for all to see. So, too, are the tensions that result when elected governments defy a national consensus in favour of a greater, European, good. Greece and Germany are both prime examples.

Given that so much in Europe could be interpreted as going the sceptics' way, it seems particularly superfluous for the Commons to be debating a referendum on British membership just now. Why squander precious Parliamentary time on a question that may be decided in the sceptics' favour anyway? If the euro-zone were to collapse, and if the consequence were a looser, more differentiated political union – or even no union at all – then history would have decided for the sceptics; they would have won without a fight.

Of course, such thinking is too simple, and too logical, to have halted today's debate. Depending which side of the Europe question you stand – and this newspaper stands wholeheartedly behind Britain staying in and playing a full part in the EU – this parliamentary occasion is about much more, or much less, than the future of Europe.

It is about the persistence of a particular eurosceptic, Little-Englander, strand of British opinion. It is about the Coalition honouring its pledge on e-petitions – that any motion that receives more than 100,000 supporting signatures will have its day in Parliament. Even more, though, it is about the frustrations of a number, quite a large number, of Conservative MPs, who feel that David Cameron has used the exigencies of coalition to exclude them and the constituents they represent.

Which is why, despite the demonstrated weakness of the European Union and the eurozone at present, this debate is nonetheless so potentially damaging. Although this is contestable, it can at least be argued that Britain has avoided some of the worst effects of the eurozone crisis by dint of not having joined the single currency. As the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary have had to recognise, however – and none of these men, in their pre-government days, was exactly known for their europhile tendencies – Britain's size, its geographical location, and the place occupied by international finance in its economy all mean that this country cannot stand aloof.

If the eurozone fails, a large chunk of the UK economy is endangered, too. More than anything else, it is international apprehension about the eurozone that is stalling economic recovery in Britain. This is why we have in recent months been treated to the unlikely spectacle of eurosceptic ministers insisting that the strength and survival of the eurozone are in Britain's best interests. This is why both Mr Cameron and the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, have insisted on imposing a whip on their MPs voting today. And this is why a debate, which would otherwise have been of very little consequence except for the purpose of letting off some eurosceptic steam, could hardly have been less helpfully timed – for Mr Cameron, or for Europe.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot