A referendum is coming, probably just the other side of the next general election, but there is as yet no way of knowing what the question will be. It might be a straight in or out proposition, in which case David Cameron and a good many other senior Tories would conceivably campaign to stay in. Equally, with very little preparation done inside or outside government on what a renegotiated settlement might look like, it is difficult to see such talks producing an outcome satisfactory enough to result in a decisive alternative question. The situation is messy.
This makes it extremely difficult for Eurosceptics with a range of views to get themselves organised into a coherent campaign. Some efforts are now being made behind the scenes, with major Tory donors getting ready to fund the beginnings of a cross-party effort. The Conservative Party in the country is shrinking at such a rapid pace that an alternative organisation with hundreds of thousands of volunteers prepared to canvas and assist in a referendum is envisaged. Work on recruiting will start online soon.
Frankly, the biggest risk is Eurosceptic over-confidence. If it comes to a straightforward in/out referendum the forces defending the status quo will be formidable. British big business, the Labour establishment, some of the most recognisable Tory big beasts, the Lib Dems and parts of the BBC will present withdrawal as dangerous isolationism favoured by wild-eyed madmen.
Eurosceptics should not presume this charge can just be swept aside. There was a taste of what is to come in a recent BBC Radio 4 debate, hosted by Evan Davis. Four Eurosceptics were up against Sir Stephen Wall, the former mandarin and arch-integrationist. The programme encapsulated the sceptic problem. The four sceptics each sat on a different part of the spectrum advocating renegotiation, compromise or immediate withdrawal. Sir Stephen was smooth, urbane, the Foreign Office incarnate. He even managed to sound as though he kept a straight face when suggesting that the UK may yet join the euro.
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