Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lib Dems should drop "in or out" referendum on Europe

Yesterday it seemed that Ming Campbell had announced that the Lib Dems had given up the idea of holding an "in or out" referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. Sadly, it seems that Nick Clegg been taking rather a different line.

"Sadly", because it would be better if we did drop the idea. And here are four reasons:
  1. Europe should be one of the great issues in British politics. By quarantining it through promising referendums and then not holding them, the parties have done much to being politics into disrepute. Let's debate Europe at general elections.
  2. By advocating an "in or out" referendum the Liberal Democrats are retreating to their comfort zone. The question now is what kind of Europe we want to see, and that requires some thought. Reminding people that we were the first people to advocate British membership of the EEC will no longer do.
  3. The idea that an incoming Liberal Democrat government would hold a referendum and then, if the outs won, devote five years to negotiating British withdrawal from the EU is ludicrous.
  4. Advocating this referendum exacerbates the idea that we are trying to be all things to all people. We are the most pro-European party, but if you hate the EU then - hey! - you can still vote for us because we will give you a referendum so you can vote to leave it.
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Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Will your MPs in the South West, currently lying awake at night panicking about Europe, willing accept dropping this and removing their appeal to UKIP voters?

Simon Titley said...

"The question now is what kind of Europe we want to see". That has been the question during eight years of tortuous negotiations and the Lisbon Treaty is the resulting compromise.

There is no appetite among the EU's 27 members to reopen this debate for the next few years but instead a determination to focus on making the existing arrangements work.

Opening a debate within the UK on "what kind of Europe we want" would therefore have no practical effect, since it is does not engage anyone in the rest of Europe. The kind of Europe we want is something for all Europeans to decide, not just the British.

The EU's priority now should be to produce something concrete on important international concerns, such as the recession, trade, climate change, third world development and terrorism.

We'll then be in a better position to produce a critique of the post-Lisbon EU and how to improve it.

Lavengro in Spain said...

Now, if we could have a referendum in the whole of the EU abut British membership ...

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

I would be quite happy for us to drop our current position on an in-out referendum. What I don't like is Ming Campbell thinking he can change policy by giving press interviews on the subject, even though he hasn't been leader for two years.

I also detest this cowardly Lib Dem maneuvring on Europe. Ming adopted the "in-out" policy because it stopped him from having to support a referendum on Europe. Dropping that policy after Lisbon has been ratified is the height of cynicism.

It's too late to change the policy now; the "in-out" referendum should be in our manifesto. We can't keep revisiting policies every five minutes.

In the longer term, by all means lets drop it as a policy, but replace it with something that doesn't insult people's intelligence. Let's stop pretending that European treaties have no constitutional impact on the UK and behave accordingly. In the long term, this does of course mean a written constitution and a ratification process that requires a supermajority in both houses of Parliament (most EU member states have something along those lines - it is anti-european of us to pretend otherwise).

Sadly, I often get the impression that the last thing our parliamentarians would want are constitutional safeguards.