A Pro-European Referendum, Revisited

John Rentoul

peoples pledge 3 1 copy 300x133 A Pro European Referendum, RevisitedJust received an email news release from the wonderful Ian McKenzie, communications director of The People’s Pledge campaign for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. It announces that the campaign has appointed a new director, and it is he.

Congratulations Ian.

He is a member of WHF (We Happy Few) (Blairites), and used to work for John Prescott, arguing with him about whether to put the milk in tea first or not. On All Fools’ Day he had fun by asking repeatedly on Twitter if anyone knew where Henry was. Well, I enjoyed it. Where was Henry Porter, Defender of Aynshunt Liberteez, now that the Liberators from the Jackbooted Heel of Zanu Liebour Oppression had looked from man to pig and back again and turned out to be crushing Magna Carta (the Right Not to Have a Traffic Cameron) under the Jackbooted Heel of the Coalition?

Fortunately, Henry surfaced yesterday and confirmed that freedom was indeed under threat from the same overblown tosh that he used to write about the Labour government.

Anyway, I digress.

Ian and I differ on one subject, and that is Europe. He is a truer Blairite than I am, in that he is a pro-European, whereas I am a sceptic, in, I hope, the original sense of the word. I have therefore teased him for having signed up to a Eurosceptic venture, and one which is so silly that even I don’t agree with it. He counters that, as a democrat and a pro-European, he wants a referendum – to strengthen Britain’s commitment to the EU.

I think this is daft. You don’t argue for a referendum as a matter of principle. You argue for what you want, and if that requires a referendum, as leaving the EU would, then you get to that when you are winning the argument about the desired end.

As I have written before, for a pro-European to argue for an in-or-out referendum seems back to front to me. Why would someone who supports Britain’s membership of the EU put it at risk by holding a referendum which might end it? A referendum is not a by-election and the No campaign is not George Galloway, but who could be sure that Yes to keeping things as they are would win?

Anyway, I spoke to Ian last week and I now see that he has more of an argument than I thought. His case is that the failure to renew popular consent for EU membership since the original referendum of 1975, in which he and I were both a few months too young to vote, strengthens the Eurosceptics. Because there has been no recent referendum, he says, the anti-European wing of the Conservative Party wields too much influence over David Cameron, against the national interest. He thinks Cameron’s No to the Fiscal Compact in Brussels in December is an example.

He is not arguing for an immediate referendum, in the middle of the eurozone crisis, but for one in the next Parliament. If it were held, he says, the European cause would win, and the sceptics would lose all purchase on British politics for a generation.

I disagree with almost every stage of that argument, but I can see now that it is an argument.

Let debate, therefore, be joined.

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  • bubbles15

    Only a deranged maniac would vote to stay in the EU. It is a poisonous cancer that infests our country. We must leave it.  That a europhile leads the campaign for a referendum is fine. He’ll change his mind – or condemn the country to another decade of misery until the EU collapses under it’s – and his – own arrogance.

  • bubbles15

     If the euroscpetics were allowed their voice we would undoubtedly face a difficult next few years as the EU does everything it can to ruin our export business.

    The civil service and administration adore the EU. They would fight furiously to destroy the economy, so wedded is it to the power without responsibility mindset. Far from not changing anything, it would change much. Thus the state would have to be confronted, dismantled and, being blunt; forced to do as it is told instead of dictating for a change.

  • Jeremy Matthei

    I’ll take your referendum one stage further–as an American observer the idea of a federation seems fine (after all the USA is one) but I don’t like the way the governments are sneakily creating it.  The UK is presently unsustainably sitting on the fence–I would propose a referendum with only two options, legally binding and effective immediately:

    1)  Remain in the EU.  Enter Schengen and the Euro.  Authorize the UK government to push for the best possible United States of Europe, including a federal constitution, a direct presidential election, and a clear outlining of state and federal rights.

    2)  Exit the EU, enter the EFTA, and negotiate bilaterally with the EU.

  • greggf

    At the moment the key sentiment prevailing in the Coalition and among the political elites is: ’Why would someone who supports Britain’s membership of the EU put it at risk by holding a referendum which might end it?’. For me that’s not sitting on the fence, it’s ‘more sneakily creating a federation’ as you put it.
    Certainly your item 2 should be up for affirmation, it’s what we had in 1975!

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