The EU Referendum Campaign is launched
By Daniel Hannan Politics Last updated: September 8th, 2010
When the Conservatives announced, last year, that there would be no referendums on the EU during this parliament, I resigned from my – admittedly somewhat paltry – frontbench role in the European Parliament. I did so in no carping spirit. I voted for David Cameron as Tory leader, and I would do so again tomorrow. I like the man and, more to the point, I think he’s doing the right things as PM, scrapping quangos, cutting spending, freeing schools, tackling welfare dependency. I simply wanted to concentrate on building up a cross-party campaign for an in-or-out referendum.
Let the people decide
Nine months later, here it is. The EU Referendum Campaign brings together supporters of all parties and none who believe that the question of EU membership should be settled by a popular vote. I make the full case in the main paper. The issue cuts laterally across all the parties; it cannot easily be settled at general elections; it is a matter of first-rate constitutional importance; it divides Parliament from people (only one per cent of MPs oppose EU membership, compared with around 50 per cent of their constituents); all three parties recently promised a European referendum. Europe is, in short, the textbook example of where a plebiscite is proper. The only reason not to hold a popular ballot is because you might not like the outcome – which, in a democracy, is not a worthy objection.
In the early 1970s, there was a campaign for a referendum on the Common Market. While it was ultimately unsuccessful – Edward Heath broke his word, and joined without a vote – it came remarkably close. Many MPs felt honour bound to oppose EEC membership because they had signed a commitment not to join without a referendum, and Heath’s Commons majority fell, on more than one occasion, to single figures. In the 1990s, Sir James Goldsmith launched a new referendum campaign. It was widely dismissed as quixotic, yet it soon forced both John Major and Tony Blair to promise that they would not join the euro without a popular vote. More recently, there was a campaign for a referendum on the European Constitution. Peter Hain, then the Europe Minister, told its supporters to “put away your banners and save your money” but, by the subsequent election, Tony Blair had promised a referendum on the document. (The French and Dutch “no” votes, paradoxically, allowed him to wriggle out of his commitment.)
It’s simply not true that such campaigns don’t work. No elected representative can afford to be indifferent to his constituents’ wishes. More to the point, we have a reasonable and persuasive case. So, please, visit the website and sign The Pledge.
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