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.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.