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Why I regret the fact that the Queen’s Speech didn’t contain a Referendum Bill – and I’m delighted the Conservative Party is publishing a draft Bill today
14/05/2013 16:19:00


I've written an article for The Telegraph explaining why I regret the fact that the Queen’s Speech didn’t contain a Referendum Bill – and why I’m delighted the Conservative Party is publishing a draft Bill today.

All my life, our relationship with Europe has plagued British politics. It has divided my party and to a lesser extent the other two main parties. The electorate too has never reached a settled view on the issue – according to the latest poll, a significant minority want the UK to leave the EU and many of those like myself who are reluctant to see us do so are nonetheless unhappy with the current terms of the relationship. Many people have never had the chance to have their say about this issue and many of those who did vote “yes” in the 1975 referendum feel that they were voting for a common market and have ended up with something very different.

In January, the Prime Minister gave a long-awaited speech about the future of Europe. He argued that the EU is going to have to change as a result of the eurozone crisis; that this presents an opportunity for the UK to renegotiate its relationship; and that once we have done so this deal should be put to the British people in an in/out referendum in the first half of the next Parliament.

I believe this is a policy around which all Conservatives should be able to unite and more importantly that it is the right policy for this country. We need to resolve this issue once and for all and the only way to do that is to allow the British people to have their say.

But there is a problem: those of my electors who feel strongly about this issue believe that David Cameron promised them a referendum last time. For what it’s worth, they’re wrong – he promised a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if and only if it hadn’t been ratified by the time he came to power – but in politics it’s perception that matters. We need to convince these electors that we mean what we say and the best way to do that would be to pass legislation in this Parliament providing for a referendum.

I would have liked to see such legislation in the Queen’s Speech, but sadly the Liberal Democrats blocked it (despite saying in their 2010 manifesto that they “remain committed to an in/out referendum the next time a British Government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU”).

On many issues, there is common ground between the two parties, but on Europe we are poles apart and we need to make sure that the electorate understand that. That’s why I’ll be voting for John Baron’s amendment expressing regret that my party’s policy on this issue wasn’t included in the Coalition Government’s legislative programme.

And that’s why I am delighted my party is today publishing a draft Referendum Bill. We need to find a way to get a vote on this Bill and then we’ll see whether Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs are prepared to deny the British people their say on this issue.

Finally a word of warning to some of my colleagues. We are on the right side of this issue, but we must not delude ourselves that Europe on its own is going to decide the next Election. Many people feel passionately about it, but for most people the dominant issue is the economy – tackling the deficit, getting the economy growing, creating jobs. We have got what we wanted, or at least as close to what we wanted as we are going to get given the constraints of coalition.

We must give our Prime Minister the space to talk about the economy, welfare reform, school standards, immigration and the quality of care in our NHS. If we don’t do that, if we keep banging on about solely about Europe, we run the risk of turning what should be a vote winner into a vote loser.

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Readers' Comments

On 14/05/2013 19:21:00 Jim wrote:
I acknowledge that David Cameron didn't promise a referendum last time - but he went as far as possible to give that impression in order to get the anti-EU vote. He was dragged kicking and screaming to his current position. It is clear to me that he believes in the EU and thinks that the relationship can be fixed. I wish he would step down - he has proved a disappointment in so many areas.

I personally don't want years of uncertainty and the humiliation of the PM begging the EU for "reform". I want to leave Europe as soon as practicable and to maintain a healthier relationship with our neighbours.

We will never have control of our borders whilst we are subject to EU laws on free movement of labour and European HR laws. (EU membership requires agreement with the convention.) Because the public are sick of immigration and our hands are tied by the EU, it is a nightmare for any business wanting to obtain a work permit for someone outside the EU. Why should a Bulgarian be free to enter the UK to work when a Canadian isn't? EU membership has unbalanced our immigration which is why it has become toxic.

Then there is all the red tape and corruption from Brussels - being forced to go metric, telling us what light bulbs we can use, VAT fraud etc. Cameron seems to love the daft green stuff.

Yep I agree, dominant issues do include the economy, the deficit, growth, creating jobs. I'm in Taiwan now and I can see how it's done. That's why I want to get out of the EU with its protectionist instincts and its inward thinking. Let's trade with the rest of the world unincumbered. Cameron DID promise a bonfire of the quangos. The EU machine is the biggest quango of the lot.

The policy of the Conservative party is not to leave the EU, it's to fiddle around and make it work. Curing the cancer and killing the patient. Libdems can't be trusted on anything. Labour will mess up the economy in or out of the EU. Currently only UKIP has a policy of EU departure.

After 40 years we've seen enough. Why put off until 2017 something we can do now?

On 15/05/2013 20:24:00 Paul Ogier wrote:
It seems that we have a Prime Minister who, like his party, exercises followership rather than leadership - confused and confusing Cameron and confused and conflicted Conservatives.



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