That James Wharton’s bill – seeking to legislate for an in/out referendum on the UK’s place in a reformed European Union by 2017 – hasn’t yet been derailed by Labour or Lib Dem members who abstained at second reading, shows that for once our party has a coherent and united position on Europe, while our opponents are the ones grappling in the dark.
Adam Afriyie’s amendment to move a referendum up to 2014 is a huge threat to this bill.
But more than a threat to this in/out referendum, it threatens the result of the in/out referendum already scheduled for 2014; the one which will decide if the UK will exist in future, never mind its position in relation to its neighbours.
On the 18th of September next year, the people of Scotland will decide whether Scotland should secede from the UK and become an independent country. Conservatives from every part of these isles are fighting hard to keep our country together.
And it’s working. Poll after poll shows support for the nationalist cause kept to the low 30’s in percentage terms. Psephologists and commentators are opining that Alex Salmond and the SNP need a potential ‘game changer’ to shift opinion.
Adam Afriyie’s move risks changing the narrative to benefit those who seek to break up Britain.
Now, we have the secessionists under pressure to explain what would happen to Scotland if it chose independence – would the EU insist she adopts the Euro? What would Schengen mean for Scotland’s border with England? How much would losing the rebate cost?
If this amendment passes, suddenly all that pressure and uncertainty is not just released, but new questions and uncertainty could be directed at the pro-union campaign.
It’s not even a realistic proposal. The whole point of a referendum in 2017 is to allow the Prime Minister to renegotiate the UK’s terms of membership and to ask the British people if we want a better deal in Europe or to leave Europe all together.
Adam Afriyie seems to think such renegotiation could happen in just a few months. It can’t.
But what can happen, is that we can lose the clear and coherent position our party has on Europe and the advantage we have over Labour and the Liberals.
We are the only party able to say “vote for us at the general election and you will get your say on Europe”. James Wharton’s bill enshrines that promise.
I don’t know Mr Afriyie and I have no axe to grind. I find his back story compelling and his business achievements admirable.
But his actions and pronouncements in recent days look like those of a man with more self-regard than strategic nous and one who is proposing a destabilising act simply to further his own career, rather than propose a workable solution.
I want a genuine vote in 2017 to decide whether the UK should be in or out of Europe.
But more than that, I want to make sure we still have a UK – and that next year Scotland votes overwhelmingly to reaffirm our place in the Union.
For both these reasons, I urge my Westminster colleagues to reject Adam Afriyie’s amendment.