It appears likely that at some stage this year there will be a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. This will be a pivotal moment for Britain and is a vote which may determine the future of David Cameron. According to newspaper reports Tory ministers are now openly stating that should Cameron lose he will be forced to resign. With polls showing the race too close to call, we could now be coming to the end of his premiership. However given what Cameron has achieved would a resignation (be it forced or not) be the correct decision.
The last comparable referendum was in 1975 when Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson held a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European community. Wilson won this vote and subsequently stayed as Prime Minister. Therefore if Cameron did lose both he and us as a country would be in uncharted territory. This makes it very difficult to predict what happens next.
David Cameron knows his reputation and to some extent his legacy is on the line. In calling this referendum and pursuing reforms he has placed himself in a position where he will face judgement on the deal he has personally negotiated. Barring a late change of heart Cameron will campaign to stay in the EU and should Britain then vote to leave the EU, it will be seen as a rejection of Cameron.
Europe and the EU has always divided the Tory Party and there is a strong Eurosceptic presence which runs through the party. Arguably these voices could now be considered the dominant ones in the party. A fair proportion of Tory MPs will campaign to leave and should they be successful they are unlikely to look kindly on a Prime Minister who has been on the other side of the debate. The pressure they would impose combined with the personal nature of this defeat could be enough to see the end of Cameron.
If the country goes against Cameron’s desire then it is highly probable he will be forced out. He may even resign as a matter of honour, something he allegedly would have done had the government lost the Scottish Independence Referendum. The Eurosceptic Tory element would also see this as an opportunity to pounce and would not waste this chance. If and it remains a big if Cameron loses then there is no way he can survive and he will leave as the Tory Prime Minister who tried but failed to heal Tory divisions on Europe.
Article by Mike Hough
Photograph – The FT