In June, John Baron delivered a
letter to No 10 co-signed by 100 Conservative MPs calling for an EU referendum.
Two and a half months later, despite numerous prompts, there has still been no
Why does anyone take a long time to respond
to an important letter? Can it be that the answer is not known, that the
recipient has not formed a view, or even that one’s opinion is changing?
I delivered the letter, co-signed by 100
Conservative MPs, on 27th June. It called upon the Prime Minister to
place on the Statute Book a commitment to hold a referendum within the next
Parliament on the nature of our relationship with the EU. David Cameron
subsequently invited me to a meeting on 9th July to discuss the matter,
during which we agreed to disagree, and he promised to reply. However, two and
a half months later, and after multiple attempts to chase, we are still
awaiting a reply.
The advantages of committing to a referendum
now are numerous. It would address the very real lack of public trust when
people hear politicians making promises – they remember Labour’s broken
promises over the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty. Such a referendum would
address this credibility gap. Promises or commitments made nearer election
time, or in manifestos, risk being seen as election ploys.
I personally would like an in/out referendum
as soon as possible. However, our letter was pragmatic in asking the Prime
Minister to commit now for a referendum in the next Parliament. This would
allow time for an informed debate as to the question to be asked, and for the
Eurozone crisis to play out. It would also give time for any renegotiations to
take place – after all, we have been promised a repatriation of powers. The
proposal does not ‘corner’ the Prime Minister, but it would commit him to
sticking to a promise important to many of us across the country.
The Prime Minister’s delay in responding is
interesting, especially since he knows 100 Parliamentary colleagues are
awaiting his reply. However, putting this in a wider context may offer some
It may be that our proposal has become
somewhat more attractive given that the Prime Minister’s boundary changes now
look dead in the water. Last week, piqued by the failure of Lords reform, Nick
Clegg categorically stated Lib Dem MPs would vote against the Government’s proposals.
These have always meant more to the Conservatives. The equalisation of seats
was fair and, whilst I never believed it would deliver an extra 20 seats, would
have resulted in some gains. This will now not happen.
By contrast, our proposal is not only right
for the country, but could deliver electoral advantage to whichever party first
made the commitment. UKIP held the balance of power in what should have been 20
Conservative seats at the last General Election. Early polling from Corby may
also be revealing. But why vote UKIP when a major party will definitely deliver
a referendum? It would shoot their fox overnight.
Another possibility is that the Prime
Minister is privy to much worse economic news from the Eurozone. After all, the
Government misjudged the speed of our recovery; it is therefore not impossible
a similar misjudgement has been made about the Eurozone. 20 or so summits have
been nothing more than sticking plasters which the markets are increasingly
No amount of moving the massive debt around
the system – between banks and governments – can erode or conceal its extent.
The solution is greater competitiveness and growth. But where are the
supply-side reforms needed to foster this? And, if the Euro is heading for a disorderly
breakup, an EU referendum suddenly becomes moot.
As for the politics of the EU, President
Barroso said on Wednesday that the European Commission will begin work on a new
treaty which will in effect create a ‘United States of Europe’. It has long
been evident to many of us that one cannot have monetary union without fiscal
union. The Euro is the key stepping stone on the road to political union.
Barroso has now made clear the EU is moving into this phase. I suggest decision
time for the UK is fast approaching. Perhaps the Prime Minister realises this
To help nudge the Prime Minister and the
political establishment generally in the right direction, we are launching an
All-Party Parliamentary Group for an EU Referendum. This group is open to all MPs
and Peers, and aims to act as a rallying point in Parliament for those of us
from all sides of the debate who nevertheless believe a fresh democratic mandate
is required. Our inaugural meeting will take place on 16th October.
I look forward to working with colleagues to give the British people a say on
this crucial issue.
Meanwhile, I will continue pressing for a
response to our letter!