The Government is Scared of the Rise in Euroscepticism

15/07/2011 12:39 BST | Updated 14/09/2011 10:12 BST

If we peer above the parapets of the whole phone hacking saga we see other, far more significant developments, with worldwide implications. The press has moved on, now that the rioters have gone back to their tavernas in Athens, but the markets are still rumbling.

It is true to say that the European Union is in one hell of a mess. The credit rating agencies have downgraded Ireland's debts to junk, the Greeks are defaulting, the Italians are in chaos and rumours are abound about the possibility of a massive constitutional change in order to defend its dreams.

The choice faced by the partisans of the European Union is stark - either fall together or fall apart. The problem of course is that while the elite would jump together with the speed of a tabloid phone hack, the peoples of Europe are simply not convinced. All around them they see the foundations of the Euro, the coins in their pockets, being undermined and with it their own personal prosperity. And remember only two countries out of 27 had a vote on the Euro, Denmark and Sweden, and they both voted No. For the rest it was foisted on them. It arrived with inflation and tricks. There is mute acceptance of a financial fact, but no loyalty nor love for the symbol.

Worse still, the choice for the elite is complicated by the position of the UK. Just looking at the opinion polls this week highlights the problem. YouGov and Angus Reid both have the British people taking a remarkably UKIP style position of straight withdrawal from the EU by 2:1. For the first time 50% of those polled have had enough. The statistical breakdown is extremely interesting. All sectors of society, all parts of the country and supporters of all parties now back withdrawal.

This position is now supported by a massive majority of those likely to vote, and a near absolute majority of those entitled to do so. But it is not supported by the tired traditional political parties in Britain, whereas UKIP has EU withdrawal as a key policy. And frankly this scares those in power, they know they are badly out of step with the public.

To head off the electoral threat of UKIP in particular the Government has introduced their so called Referendum lock. They would have us believe that this is being introduced out of some sort of principled Euroscepticism, but the real reason is nothing of the sort. This week David Liddington, the Europe Minister in the coalition has let the cat out of the bag. Talking to the FT,

"He said the offer of a referendum would reassure British citizens and head off the possibility of extremist parties exploiting anti-European sentiment".

Or in other words, they really don't care about our relationship with the EU, what they do care about is their own backsides on the green benches. And if you are branding UKIP extreme, then you are effectively leveling the same charge at a massive chunk of the UK population. The political elite are worried, and rightly so.