A couple of weeks ago, James
"http://www.spectator.co.uk/politics/all/7836438/politics-why-a-european-referendum-is-now-almost-certain.thtml">revealed that the promise of an EU referendum is almost certain to feature in
the 2015 Tory manifesto. But might we actually have one before then? If the speculation by ‘senior government sources’ in "http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article3425953.ece">today’s Times is to be believed, we might indeed.
According to No.10 and the Foreign Office, a Greek exit from the euro — which could follow soon after the country’s new round of elections on 17 June — would necessitate a rewriting of
EU treaties. And that, the Times says, ‘would trigger “aggressive” demands by Tory MPs to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.’ Meanwhile, over on the other side of
the coalition, Nick Clegg tells the Times that, if a new treaty is needed for the health of the eurozone and the
‘of course any rational British government, certainly any British government of which I am a member, will not stand in the way because it would be cutting off our noses to spite our
face if we did so.’
But didn’t the government already guarantee a referendum in the event of such a treaty change? Well, not quite. The ‘referendum lock’ passed last year — as part of the
European Union Act 2011 — only mandates a referendum if the new treaties extend the competences of the EU,
and it’s not at all clear that Greece’s exit from the eurozone would precipitate that sort of change. So if we do have a referendum, it will be likely be the result of political pressure, not legal
obligation. And that would mean a political fight that could tear the coalition apart.