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Only a referendum will ultimately settle the European question
01/07/2012 23:02:00


The Prime Minister has written a very significant article in this morning's Sunday Telegraph about our relationship with Europe.

He starts by rejecting two options that he believes would be wrong for our country.

First, accepting the status quo. He says more clearly that I have ever seen before that he is "not happy" with our current relationship. He argues that the EU costs too much, is too bureaucratic and meddles too much in issues that should be the responsibility of nation states, civic society or individuals and that whole swathes of legislation covering social issues, working time and home affairs should be scrapped.

Second, leaving the EU. He argues that unfettered access to European markets and, crucially, a say in how the rules of that market are written are vital for our country and that co-operating with our neighbours on foreign affairs maximises our influence in the world.

He goes on to point out that the euro crisis is changing Europe, forcing eurozone countries to integrate more and more closely, and that this offers us an opportunity but that we need to show "tactical and strategic patience".

He ends by opening the door to a referendum on any revised relationship.

I know some will react with cynicism - they'll say he promised a referendum on Lisbon and didn't deliver one (actually, he promised a referendum if Lisbon hadn't been ratified by the time he became Prime Minister but that's not what most people heard) - but I think this is hugely significant.

The question of our relationship with Europe has dogged British politics for years. Anyone under the age of 55 didn't get to vote in the 1975 referendum and many of those who did feel that the EU is a very different creature from the Common Market that they voted to join. Holding a referendum is the only way to settle the issue - and the Prime Minister is right to say that the sensible time to hold that referendum is when the options before us are clear.

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Readers' Comments

On 04/07/2012 08:19:00 Kulgan of Crydee wrote:
The Conservative party will haemorrhage votes if they do not give the British people what they actually want as shown by the myriad of polls. The British people want an in/out referendum. Nothing more, nothing less. I have voted for the Conservatives all my life (now 45) but they will not get anymore votes from me unless their pro-EU stance changes and the people of the Country are given a vote on this issue.

Nobody in this Country has ever voted for what the EU has become. They voted for a Common Market. The PM wants the people of the Falklands to have 'Self-Determination'. The people of the UK deserve nothing less.

On 04/07/2012 20:31:00 Paul Ogier wrote:
Democratic citizens in mature democracies often have not voted for or had a referendum on various treaties entered into on their behalf by previous generations's representatives. Should we not have a referendum therefore on being a member of NATO? Should we not have a referendum every 25 years on the EU, NATO or even the Act of Union or any other treaty for that matter. There will always be a 'generation' who have not had chance to vote via an election and/or a referendum on a whole array of treaties etc. Maturity requires that we all need to live with the decisions of previous generations even if this is arbitarily estimated at 25 years!
On 04/07/2012 23:56:00 Jim wrote:
I took the view some time ago that David Cameron is not to be trusted on the EU/referendum issue and this article just confirms my suspicions. He seems to have contempt for public opinion on this matter. Personally I find his approach to Europe a humiliation for the UK. We have no power to "renegotiate" our membership, who does he think he is? Better to make our peace and leave. I have lived in, and traded with Asia. International trade is (was?) our future, this is where our focus should be. Not the bloated, protectionist, EU.

As I say, I want to get out. But at the very least, I don't expect this issue to be fudged any longer. This IS the most important issue for me as it impacts the deficit, immigration, sovereignty, constitutional law and trade. It is daft that Romanians, Poles etc can come to the UK without any control, but companies have to jump through hoops to get a work permit for skilled/wealthy Americans, Japanese, Taiwanese etc. Why are schools teaching French when it has been obvious for 20 years they should have been teaching Mandarin?

BIzarre too that the Scots are being given the chance to get out of the UK, but we can't get out of the EU...

I too was a Conservative party supporter, but it looks like UKIP for me now, at least whilst Cameron is leader. You see, even if there was a clear manifesto promise of a referendum, I just don't think I would trust it. This is all rather a pity for you, Gavin. I suppose I could be persuaded if you went out on a limb on this issue as did the brave Conservatives MPs that voted for the referendum last October.

On 10/07/2012 14:22:00 Chris Marlow wrote:
I agree that a referendum is needed, but we simply do not have the time or energy to divert attention away from the issue at hand: ensuring growth in the UK economy. A similar unnecessary distraction is Lords Reform.

The single market and the benefits to UK plc should not be a deciding factor in whether people vote 'yes' or 'no' to whichever question the Government puts to the electorate. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty forces the EU to sign free trade agreements with member states that decide to leave the Union. Notwithstanding this, UK plc should be looking to other markets/countries to increase trade.

I believe we need to remain in the EU but with a revised relationship. Indeed, for the EU to remain sustainable in the longer term, it will need to continue its reform long past fiscal union. Case in point: France receiving €10 billion/year in farm subsidies.

On 11/07/2012 20:48:00 Robert King wrote:
In theory David Cameron could have instituted a referendum on whether or not to reverse the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, but we have to remember the situation he finds himself in.

The Conservative party does not have an overall majority, there is a coalition with the very pro-EU Liberal Democrats and there is also still a small but significant faction within the Conservative party that supports close EU integration and would oppose any such referendum.

So he would have wasted much energy and political capital on something that he could never have delivered and the ensuing row could well have caused the break up of the coalition and we could now be stuck with Ed Milliband as Prime Minister until 2017 and beyond.

Mindful of the divisions that the EU can cause I would think that a Labour Prime Minister in that situation would keep the issue of EU reform as far away from the public as he possibly can and Conservative minded people voting for UKIP would only help him.

In Croydon at the last local council elections, held on the same day as the General Election, the Conservatives lost one seat to Labour by 52 votes, the UKIP candidate in that ward who had no chance of winning, received 296 votes.

If other wards had gone their way, we would now have a Labour controlled Croydon again and the same thing could happen in a General Election, where a string of marginal seats are won by Labour or the Liberal Democrats thanks to the intervention of the UKIP.

On 20/07/2012 00:40:00 Jim wrote:
Robert King, you conclude "the Conservatives lost one seat to Labour by 52 votes, the UKIP candidate in that ward who had no chance of winning, received 296 votes...the same thing could happen in a General Election, where a string of marginal seats are won by Labour or the Liberal Democrats thanks to the intervention of the UKIP."

It is hardly an "intervention" by UKIP if people choose to vote for them. It's not the divine right of the main parties not to face a challenge. I for one will vote for the candidate (and party) who most aligns with my views. AV would have prevented the problem you identify but the Conservatives (including Gavin) campaigned strongly against this. I would always prefer the Conservatives over Labour - but unfortunately our (unchanged) system won't allow for my expression of that unless I deny my first choice (assuming I do go with UKIP next time). I certainly won't be held over the barrel of "you can't vote UKIP because you might let Labour in".




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Gavin Barwell, 133 Wickham Road, CR0 8TE, Tel  020 8663 8741      © Gavin Barwell  2019       Promoted by Ian Parker on behalf of Gavin Barwell, both at 36 Brighton Road, Purley, CR8 2LG