Cameron's new EU referendum headache

Downing Street slaps down Iain Duncan Smith's call for a referendum on any "major treaty change".

Iain Duncan Smith, one of the cabinet's most eurosceptic members, caused some excitement at the weekend when he suggested that a referendum could be held on any "major treaty change" (such as that required for a fiscal union) even if there was no further transfer of power from Britain to the European Union.

"If there is a major treaty change, it is now legislated for that we should have a referendum," he told Sky News, adding that this was David Cameron's position. But the Work and Pensions Secretary has now been slapped down by Downing Street, which made it clear that the coalition's "referendum lock" only applies to treaties that affect British sovereignty.

The prime minister's official spokesman said:

What is being discussed at the moment is about how the members of the eurozone organise themselves and how they construct the right economic governance for the eurozone ... There are no proposals on the table for a transfer of powers from the UK to Brussels. That is not what it being talked about ... There is no lack of clarity here. The Act talks about triggering a referendum if there's a transfer of power from London to Brussels.

With reference to Cameron's previous "cast-iron pledge" to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie suggests that Downing Street's position is "technically correct" but that voters will see it as "slippery". With this in mind, it's worth noting that the PM's spokesman refused to explicitly rule out holding a referendum on a major treaty change that didn't affect Britain. As Andrew Sparrow notes, "The Act specificies the circumstances in which a referendum has to be held (a transfer of power), but it does not stop a government holding a referendum in other circumstances."

As Germany and France pursue "ever closer union", expect this debate to run and run.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Quiz: Can you identify fake news?

The furore around "fake" news shows no sign of abating. Can you spot what's real and what's not?

Hillary Clinton has spoken out today to warn about the fake news epidemic sweeping the world. Clinton went as far as to say that "lives are at risk" from fake news, the day after Pope Francis compared reading fake news to eating poop. (Side note: with real news like that, who needs the fake stuff?)

The sweeping distrust in fake news has caused some confusion, however, as many are unsure about how to actually tell the reals and the fakes apart. Short from seeing whether the logo will scratch off and asking the man from the market where he got it from, how can you really identify fake news? Take our test to see whether you have all the answers.

 

 

In all seriousness, many claim that identifying fake news is a simple matter of checking the source and disbelieving anything "too good to be true". Unfortunately, however, fake news outlets post real stories too, and real news outlets often slip up and publish the fakes. Use fact-checking websites like Snopes to really get to the bottom of a story, and always do a quick Google before you share anything. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.