18/03/2015 07:46 GMT | Updated 18/05/2015 06:59 BST

From VE Day to Brexit

On Friday 8 May 70 beacons are going to be lit all over Britain to celebrate our great European victory in World War II. Although torchlight processions are not really the English way of doing things, the fiery display will be at risk of being treated triumphally by whichever patriotic party wins the general election the day before.

On-lookers may well wonder if the Brits will ever tire of nationalistic nostalgia. They certainly seem in no current mood to move on from 1945 and engage in a serious debate about the future of Europe. The general election campaign that now commences is bound largely to avoid the embarrassing issues of the UK's European and global decline.

What will happen is this. If David Cameron stays prime minister after 7 May with or without a majority government, the first item of legislation in the new parliament will be the EU Referendum 2017 Bill. He will surely have enough votes from UKIP, the Ulster Unionists and rebels from Labour ranks to carry the Bill into law. The House of Lords will not block such a key piece of the Tory election manifesto.

At the European Council in Brussels on 25-26 June, Cameron will turn up with his catalogue of demands for the renegotiation of the British terms of EU membership. If these demands are serious rather than synthetic, there is precious little chance that his EU partners will agree to them. So the referendum will go ahead in the context of a failed EU renegotiation, a Tory Party split asunder and the Kingdom probably disunited as Scotland goes its own way. The effective question asked of the hapless British electorate will be: 'Do you want to stay in the EU as it is at present - with all its crises, internal contradictions and external weakness?'. The thing about stupid questions is that they deserve and often get equally stupid answers.

However, if the answer, somewhat astonishingly, is 'Yes', the UK will then be able to play its part in the Convention that is to be called to renegotiate the Treaty of Lisbon. The main purpose of this exercise will be to install a federal government of a fiscal union of the eurozone. This is what ECB President Mario Draghi calls a quantum leap 'from rules to institutions through governance reforms'.

Executive power and a federal treasury will be concentrated in a reformed European Commission, held accountable to a European Parliament itself strengthened by the presence of MEPs elected from transnational lists. A dose of fiscal federalism will enlarge the EU's budget, loosening the grip of national treasuries and rendering rebates redundant. The European Central Bank will become the lender of last resort. A shift in competences will enable the development of decent common policies in energy and immigration. Military integration among the core states will start to take shape.

This large package deal will go to a referendum in the UK (and several other states) probably in 2019. A British 'No' at that stage would scupper the new constitutional treaty, just as the French voters dealt with the last one in 2005. So there will have to be a two-pronged referendum. First question: 'Do you agree with the federal union treaty negotiated by and agreed with everyone else?'. Second question: 'Do you want the UK to be a part of the federal union or to opt instead for a more detached affiliate membership?'.

Of course, if Ed Miliband becomes prime minister after the election, there will be no silly divisive referendum in 2017 and the Tory party and the UK will be saved from self-destruction. But the Labour party and, for that matter, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists have as yet no inkling of an idea about what to do when faced with the quickening pace of political integration in the rest of Europe. They had better hurry up.


Andrew Duff's new book is Pandora, Penelope, Polity: How to Change the European Union.