On Monday 24 October a debate was held in the House of Commons on whether to allow the British public a referendum on our membership of the European Union. The Government had told all their MPs that they should vote against the motion and not vote for a referendum. Whilst I believe the Government are doing an excellent job in Europe, for example keeping us out of further bailouts of Greece and putting in place the EU referendum lock, nevertheless I decided I must support the motion for the sake of our democracy. For too long, voters have been denied the chance to have their say on ever closer EU integration, and so, whilst it was a very difficult decision, I concluded that I had to support the principle of a referendum.
Let me be clear, I did not think that the motion put forward by backbench colleagues was the right motion. What was proposed was that the Government should bring in a Bill to allow the public a referendum on our membership of the EU and the options put forward would be:
Remain a member of the European Union on the current terms;Leave the European Union; orRenegotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation.
There are a number of problems with this motion. The first is that it does not explain what is meant by 'leaving the EU'. It is not as simple as just walking away, there are benefits to our membership and advantages that we do not want to lose. The single market is critical to British trade.
The second problem with the motion is that if this was put to the British public, the vote might well be split three ways. 40% might vote to stay in the EU, 30% to leave and 30% to renegotiate. What would a result like that tell us? Absolutely nothing! Technically the pro Europe vote would have won and yet 60% of the public would have voted for some kind of change in our relationship.
I tabled an amendment with other MPs that called on the Government to produce a White Paper looking in to what powers should be repatriated followed by a renegotiation and then a ratifying referendum. Unfortunately the amendment was not selected for debate by the Speaker.
Successive Governments over decades have denied us a right to have our say on the EU, that has sucked so many powers away from the United Kingdom with precious little democratic legitimacy. I was not able to vote the last time we had a national referendum on our relationship with Europe. The Europe we have today bears little resemblance to the Europe we voted for in 1975 – it is high time the British public had another say.
Therefore in spite of the Whips in Parliament telling me now was not the right time to call for a referendum, with a heavy heart I joined the group of 81 Conservative MPs that voted for a referendum.