Which Referendum?

The silly stunt pulled by the LibDems in Parliament yesterday was the ultimate cynical manoeuvre. The LibDems wish to break with their election promise of a referendum on the Constitution. They think demanding a referendum on In-Out will get them off the hook. They call for it knowing that the Labour Government and most Labour MPs are against it, so they know it cannot happen. Their refusal to vote for a referendum on the constitutional treaty is born of the knowledge that with all Conservatives voting in favour and some Labour rebels there would be an outside chance of gaining one. Clearly the LibDems don’t want a referendum on the constitutional treaty because they know the public would be very likely to vote it down. As we know, Lib Dems want the EU to have more powers and are enthusiasts for the new Treaty.

The difficulty with an In-Out referendum at the current juncture would be deciding what you were voting on. Would you be voting to stay in the current arrangement or would you be thinking ahead to the rather different position if the Lisbon Treaty is implemented in every country? It makes much more sense to have a referendum now on the big changes that Europe is proposing rather than on a Europe in transition. Some voters would vote ‘Yes’ to the current European Union, but ‘No’ to Europe after Lisbon has been implemented. Some voters would vote ‘No’ to any version of the European Union. Some would vote ‘Yes’ to the original Common Market. What Briatin needs is to have a referendum on Lisbon first. Assuming the British people voted ‘No’ to Lisbon there would then need to be a renegotiation. Once all that was known, we might then need a referendum on the result, of the renegotiaiton. That would be a vote on “Do you wish to stay in the EU on the revised terms, or would you rather pull out?”

No wonder people have so little confidence in modern political parties. Both Labour and the LibDems have broken their word. The LibDems have now behaved childishly and cynically, seeking a referendum they know they will never get. The public has every right to feel cheated by all those MPs who promised a refernedum on the Constitutional treaty, and who now refuse to vote for one. I look forward to voting for a referendum, as I promsied in 2005.

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14 Comments

  1. Posted February 27, 2008 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Is there a more pitiful site in modern politics than a lib-dem MP in full fledged "faux-outrage"

  2. Posted February 27, 2008 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    If it was a 3 way elimination option for staying in, leaving or association like Norway & the other EFTA countries I have no doubt what would win which is why we will not get it.

  3. Elizabeth Elliot-Pyl
    Posted February 27, 2008 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Yes, it was illuminating to see Mr Davey stamping his foot yesterday when he felt that he was not getting a proper say – despite sneering and jeering at the Conservatives on several occasions previously when they were trying to get THEIR amendments heard.
    The LibDems are obviously PRO the EU and very happy to ratify this treaty with all its far-reaching consequences for this country. They know that if they demand a referendum on In or Out, it effectively puts the whole issue on a back burner.
    As you say, lets have a say on the Lisbon treaty, which I assume any sensible voter will reject. THEN we can move on to whether we wish to remain in the EU or not.
    It would be interesting to see the reaction of our EU masters if the UK voted not to ratify the treaty.

  4. David Hannah
    Posted February 27, 2008 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    The Lib Dems may be doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. You call it a cynical stunt, but it is perhaps the most honest choice that the British nation is faced with. We all know that we’re not going to get a referendum on the EU Constitution, with or without the Lib Dems’ support (the size of the Labour majority should quell that misapprehension). Thus, with ratification guaranteed (pending Irish approval, although the EU Parliament has voted to ignore the outcome), the EU will be on the verge of its stated ambition since the Treaty of Rome: the creation of a nation state called Europe.

    At least the Lib Dems are articulating the choice as it will be in reality: we either accept this treaty, and the one after that, and the one after that (if indeed any further treaties are necessary), or, we recognise that the EU is what it is, and get out.

    However, it seems as though a potential solution is in the offing. Ian Davidson MP has written a letter to Nick Clegg offering a two question referendum: one on the treaty, and one on our membership of the EU. This should satisfy the Lib Dems’ demands. If they reject the proposal, they will reveal themselves to be the hypocrites we all know they are. What interests me particularly, is whether the Conservatives will support this idea. Why shouldn’t they? After all, it will give both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems exactly what they want. If the Lib Dems accept the idea, and the Conservatives reject it, my view that the Conservatives’ alleged EU-scepticism is phoney and opportunistic will be reinforced. What say you?

    What exactly is the Conservative position post-ratification? We don’t really know. William Hague commented on television that the Conservatives would continue to support Britain’s membership of the EU even if the treaty is ratified; “we must make a success of the European Union” were his exact words I believe. Thus, apart from the vague assurance that you “won’t let matters rest there”, we must assume that your party will drop all objections to this treaty when it becomes law. Although you have stated quite rightly that your first priority is to fight the treaty in the House of Commons, your party has also indicated that it will cross the post-ratification bridge when it comes to it. Well, that time is fast approaching, and we want answers.

    Reply: I have no intention of accepting Lisbon, Nice or Amsterdam and have voted against all 3.

    Lisbon is a foregone conclusion. You’re right in that there is little point in us having a membership referendum on a European Union in transition, so let’s have one when that transition is complete. Can we expect to see one being offered in your manifesto? No? That’s why people have so little confidence in modern political parties.

  5. Posted February 27, 2008 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I agree with all the stuff about the LibDems. But I think that the big problem the UK has with the EU is that unlike almost every other EU Member State, we have never had an open, frank and adult debate about our membership of the EU, ie what's in it for us. This is largely because the pro-EU lobby refuse to engage in such a debate – it all began with the great Heath lies – but prefer instead to indulge in cheap subterfuge and insults. Once again this is an opportunity lost by our political class. They simply do not understand the anger felt by most UK citizens at the way they have been treated over this. An anger that has been (wrongly in my view) translated into a stolid anti-EU prejudice. If we do eventually leave the EU it will be mainly thanks to the inadaquacies of the pro-EU lobby.

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted February 27, 2008 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    JR: No wonder people have so little confidence in modern political parties.

    I wonder just how many MPs recognise or, worse still, even care that they are held in contempt by the majority of the electorate. The future of our parliamentary democracy is in great danger by the antics of the current "honourable members". We have MPs who care nothing for commitments made in their manifestos, have no strong principles other than keeping their jobs and appear to think that they have a right to give away the powers of lawmaking, temporarily entrusted to them via the ballot box, to an undemocratic body. At the same time they are seen to be claiming taxpayers' money for their own benefit without scrutiny and they object to public accountability. The scene is more reminiscent of a communist totalitarian regime or France before the revolution than the “Mother of Parliaments“. If things do not improve rapidly, then there must be a real fear that there will be some form of (strong protest -ed) and who knows what the consequences of that would be.

  7. mikestallard
    Posted February 27, 2008 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    If you can speak well in public and also have a consistent position stretching back over 30 years, then what have you got to be ashamed of? This is the Lib Dem position. I remember canvassing in Farnham way back in 1976 for the Lib Dems because I wanted Europe badly then (I liked the thought of cheap wine and fags). In no way have they anything to be ashamed of.
    Nowadays, of course, I know they are wrong because the Europe we are being faced with is utterly undemocratic, unfair, unjust and in severe danger of turning into a totalitarian state if and when things get nasty.
    So it is a terrible shame to see them behaving so stupidly when they have at the very least a consistent record. Why don't they stand up and say what they believe in, very loudly? And then work towards making sure that other people share their opinion?

    Reply: But they are not being consistent on a referendum – they backed one on the Constitution in 2005 to help them get elected.

  8. Dave B
    Posted February 27, 2008 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    James Forsyth, at Spectator Coffee House, says that:

    “Ian Davidson, the Labour MP who has been leading the charge for a referendum, has managed to get down an amendment on whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union; the Lib Dem’s failure to get the Deputy Speaker to accept their amendment on this yesterday led to them storming out of the Commons. Davidson has succeeded where Nick Clegg failed by proposing a two question referendum which would ask:

    “Should the United Kingdom retain its membership of the European Union?”
    “If it remains a member of the European Union, should the United Kingdom approve the Lisbon Treaty?””

    Which seems to solve the problem you have with the Lib-Dem’s in/out referendum.

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/527496/europe-referendum-back-on-the-cards.thtml

    Reply: I have no problem in principle with an In Out referendum, but think we need the Lisbon referendum first. Assuming a “No” vote, then we need to see what deal we can negotiate and put that to the British people. A referendum on “In – Out” without knowing either what we are being asked to stay in, or without knowing what is on offer instead of membership, would a muddled event. Securign a “No” vote to Lisbon greatly strengthens a government’s hand in negotiating a better arrangement with the EU.

  9. Dave B
    Posted February 27, 2008 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    James Forsyth, at Spectator Coffee House, says that:

    "Ian Davidson, the Labour MP who has been leading the charge for a referendum, has managed to get down an amendment on whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union; the Lib Dem’s failure to get the Deputy Speaker to accept their amendment on this yesterday led to them storming out of the Commons. Davidson has succeeded where Nick Clegg failed by proposing a two question referendum which would ask:

    “Should the United Kingdom retain its membership of the European Union?”
    “If it remains a member of the European Union, should the United Kingdom approve the Lisbon Treaty?”"

    Which seems to solve the problem you have with the Lib-Dem's in/out referendum.
    http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/527496/eur

    Reply: I have no problem in principle with an In Out referendum, but think we need the Lisbon referendum first. Assuming a "No" vote, then we need to see what deal we can negotiate and put that to the British people. A referendum on "In – Out" without knowing either what we are being asked to stay in, or without knowing what is on offer instead of membership, would a muddled event. Securign a "No" vote to Lisbon greatly strengthens a government's hand in negotiating a better arrangement with the EU.

  10. Posted February 28, 2008 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    Thanks for explaining the meaning behind the LibDems' antics with much more clearly than I can. What you did not say explicitly is that the Conservatives are the only one of the three main parties to have kept it's election manifesto promise.

    I am still confused and concerned why so many EU-ophiles are keen to lock us even more closely to what is an increasingly discredited and wasteful organisation. What motivates them?

    Reply What makes this such a big divide in British politics is each side finds the attitude of the other difficult to comprehend. They say "we must not be isolated" and the EU "brings us many benefits" but they never explain how these "benefits" are at risk is we simply say "No" to more central power.

  11. Bernie O Hara
    Posted February 28, 2008 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    It would seem that we in Ireland are the only people who have a vote on this. We will be fed every type of promise to make us vote yes. I think people from other countries who are against this treaty, should use whatever influence they may have with the ordinary Irish people to vote no.

  12. Andrew S
    Posted February 28, 2008 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    If we do not get a referendum on Lisbon, then what is the capacity for an incoming Conservative Government to start to rectify matters? Of the things it can offer the public, how much can it realistically carry within the party now and going forward?

    Reply: We must offer to do so – we will discuss and conclude on this if the Constitution passes into law in each country.

  13. Rose
    Posted March 1, 2008 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    The most weaselly thing of all about the Liberals is the way they try to make out that they, unlike the conservatives, are respecting our constitution and parliament by not having a referendum – as if they were not conniving at giving it all away!

  14. Rosemary
    Posted March 1, 2008 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    I should like an arrangement with the EU similar to France's with NATO. I.e. when we judge it in our national interest to co-operate with our European cousins and neighbours we would, and not when we didn't. We would keep control over our own foreign policy and armed services, and would not be paying corrupt foreigners to feather their nests. We would make our own laws and man our own borders. In other words we would have much better relations with our cousins as there would be no resentment at an unhappy, incompatible, and unfair arrangement.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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