Yesterday David Davis made the public case for the double referendum which some of us are urging the government to launch.
The idea would be for this government to put through a Bill requiring a Mandate referendum on the EU issue. The question would be:
“Do you want the UK government to negotiate a new relationship with the EU based on trade and political co-operation?”
The aim of such a question would be to unite all shades of Euroscpetic opinion behind a single proposition, to carry it by a large margin. The government would then have a strengthened hand in negotiations in Brussels, and would also have to get on with sorting it out, as the people would have spoken. It should unite come-outers with those who wish to be in a common market, with those who merely wish to repatriate certain important powers.
The second referendum would follow once the negotiations were complete. That would ask
Do you want to accept the new negotiated relationship with the EU or not? Voting No means withdrawing from the EU.
The knowledge in advance of the second question would send a clear message to other EU members that if they wish to keep the UK in some kind of relationship they need to take seriously the many changes the UK wishes to see in the relationship. If they offer nothing or little, the UK people are very likely to vote for out altogether.
This seems to me to be the best way forward. The negotiations would also allow the government to negotiate the items that would need to be sorted out for exit anyway. There do need to be arrangements on ferry routes, airspace,pipelines, extradition, police intelligence and all the rest between the UK and the rest of the EU.
David Davis dismissed the arguments of the pro Europeans that we would be damaged by exit. He pointed out how much more trade we now do with non EU nations, and anyway how trade with the EU could continue without full membership. He showed how much damage to our productive potential and our exports the high costs and restrictions of EU regulations now do.
The Lib Dems in the Coalition may not agree to such a Mandate referendum to get this process started. Conservative Ministers should table it anyway. It would be surprising if the Labour Parliamentary party turned out to help the Lib Dems trying to vote it down, when the public so yearns for a different relationship and a chance to have a say on this most important of issues.