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David Maddox: Change in royal succession is an easier problem for the coalition to deal with than EU headache

David Cameron. Picture: AP

David Cameron. Picture: AP

A PIECE of history will be made this week when parliament gets on with the process of delivering one of the most significant constitutional changes under the coalition’s rule.

MPs from all parties look set to almost entirely unite to back a bill which will allow the first born child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to become the future monarch if she is a girl and later has younger brothers.

The move seems an obvious one, but it is still surprising that this may turn out to be the most significant piece of constitutional change set during this parliament, although the increased powers to Scotland and Wales rival it. When historians look back on the coalition years there may be some surprise about how obsessed it was with constitutional change considering that the country was at war and undergoing the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

But then there may be equal surprise about how little was achieved considering how much time was spent on constitutional matters. True the laws governing succession will be changed, devolution has been extended in Wales and Scotland, Scotland has an independence referendum and people in England – if they can be bothered – can elect police commissioners. However, elections to the Lords has not materialised, and most of all the position with Europe has not, so far, altered. And it is this subject which will dominate this week’s politics in Westminster with Prime Minister David Cameron’s long awaited speech, delayed from Friday, scheduled to be delivered.

The problem is, and most observers suspect it will remain a problem after his speech, is that there is surprisingly little consensus on Europe in the UK and even less in the Conservative Party.

Mr Cameron wants to set out a position which sees the UK demand powers back but stay in the EU and then put it to a referendum. We know this even before he makes his speech. But we also know that most of his party don’t agree.

Several of them, including Education Secretary Michael Gove and probably Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith are said to want an in/out referendum and would then campaign for out. The fact is that most of the Conservative Party want the same.

Meanwhile, the other members of the EU don’t want the UK to leave but have no intention of letting one member opt out of even more parts of the organisation, so it is likely a negotiation is a non-starter.

This leaves Mr Cameron with the thing he does not want – an in/out referendum or nothing. The likelihood is that if he has a choice and is not forced into a referendum by his party he would choose nothing given those two options.

It means though that while one constitutional issue regarding our future head of state will be resolved this week, it is unlikely that the big set piece event of Mr Cameron’s speech on the EU will sort out a far greater political headache.

 

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