Somebody who is a lot smarter than Ken Clarke is Iain Murray (“the Barry White of statistical analysis” : Jonah Goldberg). He’s opposed to a referendum for a number of perfectly respectable reasons including fears that any question will be rigged in favor of the ‘constitution’ (he’s right about that, I suspect) and concerns about the precedent (even if there is a ‘no’ vote) it may set. He’s correct in the sense that the EU’s mandarins rarely take no for an answer – both the Danes and the Irish were subjected to what were essentially repeat referenda after their electors gave the ‘wrong’ answer. Despite that, the case for a referendum remains compelling – not least for the impact a ‘no’ vote would have on the rest of the EU.
Iain is also a little too sanguine about the UK parliament’s ability to withdraw from the ‘constitution’ once it has been signed. He’s right that under English constitutional theory (some readers might now like to move on to the next post) no parliament can irrevocably bind a successor, but this is the sort of theoretical point that I used to sleep through at university. As a legal matter, for example, parliament could repeal the legislation under which, say, India was given its independence, but so what? Kipling wannabes are likely to be disappointed by the results. The key point is that legal theory cannot ignore political reality – the more entangled the UK becomes in the federalizing project, the more difficult, if not impossible, it becomes to extricate it. Iain sees the EU as a ‘tangled web’ (true) with the ‘constitution’ as a spider (also true). Contrary to what he says, however, the UK is not the wasp that stings the spider and flies away, it is the fly.
Meanwhile, away from the drama of insect and arachnid metaphor, yet another guy who is smarter than Ken Clarke, journalist Stephen Pollard, has entered the fray. His last sentence says it all:
If power ultimately resides in the people, the people who grant MPs a temporary lien on that power for five years at a time, then only the people can decide whether or not to hand it over for good
Why should Americans care about all this? Because the more the UK becomes trapped in this mess, the more Europe loses its most eloquent voice for the free market, the nation state and, yes, friendship across the Atlantic.