David Campbell Bannerman is a Conservative MEP for the Eastern Region. Follow David on Twitter.
On our relationship with the EU, I know the answer I want, but what should the question be?
There is much in the media at the moment about the possibility of getting powers back from the EU, but it has all been a bit vague for my liking. Some fine sentiments, but sadly lacking in actual detail.
Speculation is growing that before long we will have a referendum on our future relationship with the EU, but again, no details on what the public will be asked to decide on. No well defined question has been touted that either Europhiles or Eurosceptics like myself, can get behind.
Electorally, as boundary changes have been thrown into doubt, it is clear that UKIP could be even more of a threat to a Conservative majority in the next election on current boundaries than they were in 2010.
So it is vital that we propose a meaningful question on the referendum ballot paper, one that will reassure Eurosceptic voters that the Conservatives are the only party who can deliver real change over Europe and attract voters back from UKIP's single issue ticket – just as I was.
The rules suggest the answer has to bd a simple yes or no, so what should the question be?
There are various options, starting with: “Should the UK renegotiate its relationship with the EU?” Clearly this is very vague and open to exploitation by Eurosceptics and Europhiles alike. It could lead to greater integration, not less, and is a question unlikely to satisfy those Conservatives who have lent their support to UKIP.
“Should the UK withdraw from the political decision making elements of the EU?” This is a slightly stronger version, but is still too open to interpretation. One could argue that delegating our international trade agreements to the EU is not a political matter, neither is the criminal justice legislation.
My favoured question is: “Do you think that the UK should be a sovereign nation, outside of the EU, able to negotiate it's own trade agreements and treaties?”
It is simple, clear and not open to mis-interpretation.
Currently, we hear talk of renegotiation, and some specifics such as coming out of the European Arrest Warrant agreement, which in itself is great news, but I feel the British public want more than just symbolism, they can see through it. In a very real sense, they want to take power back.
And it is at our peril that we ignore them.
As a former UKIP MEP I could see, on a daily basis, not just the strength of feeling on this (it is more of a pressure group) but the rate at which their supporters were growing in number.
In the UKIP campaign office at the last General Election, it was estimated that the EU was only an election issue for 2% of voters – not so now, it has flown up the agenda, and if the Conservatives don’t react properly and speedily it could cost us the next election.
My suggestion would offer the public a choice of staying committed to full membership of a political, economic and fiscal EU union or returning to the simple free-trade agreement people thought they had voted for in the 70s.
When all said and done, it is about people having the power to determine their own futures.
The British electorate should be able to decide their country’s Foreign policy, who it does trade with, its justice system, social, environmental, employment and tax laws.
At the moment, it seems the only decision they can make is which party in Westminster best applies the same EU legislation. Get this referendum question wrong and it may not be the Conservatives for very much longer. The last thing this country needs is Marxist Miliband in Number 10.