Leading article: Another damaging eurosceptic spasm

Share
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all