I completely accept our esteemed Treasurer’s point of view that leaving the European Union is not a serious option. At least, not at the moment. I am however struck by the Liberal Democrats’ committment to a referendum on the UK’s entire membership.
This is unusually astute for the Liberal Democrats. They are free to and can benefit from committing to an EU referendum. They are not seriously in contention for office, but still have to attract as much of the protest vote as possible to win prominent positions in a Labour/Liberal coalition. So it makes sense politically. And Ed Davey’s outburst was I imagine, a ploy to attract more attention.
However, the fact that they consider this commitment populist enough to win them support is a first in British politics, and suggests the issue is irritating the public. Of course, Labour would look irresponsible if they announced a similar referendum, and the Conservatives are certainly not in a position to bang the EU drum anywhere near as hard.
However, the Liberal Democrats can bang away and might unwittingly become the great European stalking horse. Their commitment could be the precursor to more serious debate about the UK’s entire membership.