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Britain is on a single-track exit route out of the EU

Mebbies aye, mebbies naw.

We're told that Labour's new improved position on Europe is designed to look both ways. Readers of a Labour-supporting tabloid hear the message that there is to be a referendum if Ed Miliband becomes prime minister, while readers of the pink 'un are told that it'll never happen, so business can be secure. Any way you look at it, the referendum word is now on the table for Labour, and it isn't coming off again.

The new Labour position is that an in-out referendum will be necessary only "if new powers are taken by Brussels". This is naïve or disingenuous. It is almost certain that Brussels will need new powers as the eurozone grapples with the fallout from the sovereign debt crisis.

Indeed, David Cameron tried to use his veto in 2012 to prevent the EU creating a banking union. It was ignored. If that happens again under Labour, it won't be a veto that Mr Miliband calls but an in-out referendum. Ukip is driving events in England at least, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Nigel Farage must be well pleased.

So where does this leave the debate in Scotland? Well, it is no longer possible, even if it were before, to argue that Scotland is more likely to end up outside the EU if it leaves the UK. Both the main UK parties are talking about an in-out referendum. It is, at best, a no-score draw on the independence-EU issue in the Scottish referendum. However, Yes Scotland will argue that the only way you can guarantee that Scotland stays in Europe is by voting Yes in September.

Of course, there's a very subtle electoral game being played and it has little to do with Scotland and a lot to do with the balance of power in Westminster. Mr Miliband knows that an increasing number of his natural supporters in England are very hostile to Europe, while most of his middle class and business donors are pro-Europe, at least for the time being.

With the European elections coming up, Labour wants to damage Ukip but, perhaps, not damage it too much as there might be a tactical advantage in having the Tories trounced by Mr Farage.

There is a conspiracy theory doing the rounds that Mr Miliband doesn't want to split the anti-Tory vote, and would be quite happy to see some eurosceptic Labour voters lend their votes to Ukip in May to humiliate the Tories. I don't subscribe to this.

However, it is probably true that a Ukip victory, which the YouGov pollster Peter Kellner, says is the most likely outcome of the European elections in May, would leave the Tories in turmoil. Anti-European MPs would be demanding an even tougher line on the in-out referendum, which David Cameron has already conceded for 2017.

It would also force the Tories further to the right on immigration and welfare, the real issues behind Ukip's success. It might even split the Conservative Party, with a significant number of Tory MPs leaving for Ukip. A Tory party that has become a running mate to Nigel Farage would do nicely for Labour, who believe that UK elections are always won in the middle ground.

So the stakes are very high indeed. But Labour doesn't want Ukip to do so well that that it starts to seriously damage Labour's General Election prospects in 2015, which is why Mr Miliband has sought to stem the flow of anti-Europe Labour votes to Ukip by accepting the need for a referendum in principle. But the Labour leader is riding a dangerous horse. A commitment to a referendum, perhaps, can easily become a commitment to a referendum, definitely, in the heat of the television studio or the law courts.

Imagine the fun m'learned friends Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Runne will have interpreting Mr Miliband's phrase "new powers to Brussels". There are always new powers going to Brussels as the EU tries to make the single market a reality across Europe.

The Labour leader's very own pet EU reforms (calling for delays on immigration from new accession states, and deportation of immigrants if they break the law) could themselves lead to new laws being issued by Brussels that could include additional provisions we don't like.

There is a fundamental problem with the UK's position on Europe, which applies to all the mainstream parties, even the SNP, which shares the ambivalence of Labour toward the EUn. Everyone forgets that Britain signed up to the EU in 1993 with the Maastricht Treaty.

It was Margaret Thatcher who made it inevitable when she signed the Single European Act in 1986. Not only did this create an area without internal frontiers involving the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital, it also committed the signatories to qualified majority voting and monetary union.

Parliament ratified the Maastricht treaty in 1993. It is the law. It is not possible to resist new powers for Brussels.This means that a collision between the increasingly eurosceptic UK and the EU is inevitable.

The debate here has all been over whether an independent Scotland would be obliged to adopt the euro as its currency. Well, the reality is that all member states are formally committed to the euro, including Britain, even though it has an opt out.

The single market in Europe cannot be completed without there being a single currency. The founding fathers of the EU knew this perfectly well, which is why they set it up this way. They knew that a single currency would eventually force the EU to set up central monetary institutions, effectively federalism, which would have to involve further pooling of sovereignty. This is why Maastricht commits member states to "ever closer union".

Both the former German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and the late French President, Francois Mitterrand, were men of the 20th century. The single currency was, for them, all about preventing another war in Europe. All economic interests were subordinated to what Mr Kohl said was a matter of war and peace for the 21st century.

They both wanted Europe to become so integrated that war would be impossible. The single market and single currency were the mechanism for achieving this.

Without currency autonomy, countries cannot engage in economic warfare against each other by devaluing their currencies and putting up tariff barriers: the economic precursors for European war throughout the 20th Century.

They can engage in other forms of economic warfare, perhaps, but countries that share a currency do not, generally, go to war with each other.

Britain has never fully understood this and doggedly holds to the view that the EU is just a free-trade zone with knobs on. It isn't and eventually British myopia is going to collide with European constitutional reality.

It can only be a matter of time, surely, before Britain faces the ultimate decision on Europe. It may be in the next parliament, or it may be in 2020 but England, at least, is no longer going along with the European project, now that both of its main parties are both talking about an in-out referendum.

Make no mistake: for good or ill, Britain is on its way out of the European Union.

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