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

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently looking fo...

Year 3/4 Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Job Share Year 3/4 Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The racist abuse of Mario Balotelli on Twitter is disgusting, but it can be stopped

Anna Jonsson
A survey by Which? found that some of the UK’s biggest airports, including Heathrow, left travellers the most agitated  

Third-runway momentum is gathering. We need to stop it in its tracks

Mary Dejevsky
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments