UK has four months to examine whether it should stay in EU

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

It has been a remarkable political odyssey.

Less than a year ago, few pundits or political leaders, including David Cameron, thought that there would be an In-Out EU referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

The Conservative Party pledged itself to such a plebiscite, but never thought it would actually have to call one.

While Ukip was also committed to such a vote, it was not expected to hold the balance of power, and the Tories were not expected to win an overall majority.

The government was expected to have a Labour or a Liberal Democrat component who would have blocked a vote.

When the prime minister won his unforeseen overall majority last May, he was committed to a referendum he did not want. Mr Cameron, like many establishment Conservative politicians, is instinctively pro Europe. The referendum pledge however has set in motion a process over which he has only limited control.

It was promised that it would be held before the end of next year, but in the meantime the refugee and Syrian crises have convulsed Europe.

There is now more concern about Britain’s ability to control its borders than there has ever been. There was immediately concern last night about Mr Cameron’s re-negotiation deal on that point. The Ukip leader in Northern Ireland David McNarry said: “David Cameron has ... has done nothing on migrants. That is the issue which is rightly concerning our people. On protecting borders, is Cameron closing ours – or has he done a different deal with [Enda] Kenny?”

With a vote likely in June, there is now four months to examine this deal, which has led to the first poll on the UK’s role in Europe since 1975, when the EU did not even exist and it was a lesser entity, the European Economic Community.

All of Northern Ireland, and particularly the farming community, will be closely affected by the outcome of the referendum. The debate deserves to be closely scrutinised.