Steve Baker is co-Chairman of Conservatives for Britain and is MP for Wycombe.
On this site yesterday, Mark Wallace endorsed my comments reported by the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times on the need for electors to express their views to their representatives and to ask their intentions on the EU, as on every other issue.
There are colleagues in Parliament who have strong views on either side of the EU question and stood for election on that basis. Whether they are strongly for or against our membership, their views are well-known and long-held. MPs in both groups should feel invulnerable on this issue: their election may be taken as an endorsement of their noble intent and considered position.
Some colleagues are broadly uninterested in the EU issue, and would rather talk about something else. That is fair enough: me too. I’d prefer to spend my time on the agenda that the Prime Minister set out in his conference speech: lifting the poor out of poverty. But the EU referendum is upon us, and MPs cannot avoid a leadership role on this question. Are they content to remain in the EU on a substantially unreformed basis? Do they not agree with all those members of the Government, indeed the Cabinet, who said or implied that the present settlement was unacceptable?
A good number of colleagues, me included, have used at some point that common form of words, “If the referendum took place tomorrow, I would vote to leave.” Most, like me, will have gone on to rely on the words of the Prime Minister in March which looked forward to reform of the EU and a fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with it. They will have expected “proper, full-on treaty change.”
Unfortunately, the European Scrutiny Committee has just demonstrated that there will be no treaty change before the referendum, and an insignificant prospect of anything other than protocols in complete conformity with the treaties as they stand. The EU will remain substantially unreformed and our relationship with it essentially unchanged.
What are colleagues to do?
Those who would have voted to leave the EU on the basis of the Lisbon Treaty are entitled to support and encouragement as we move forward to deciding whether to remain in the EU on essentially the same terms. MPs need to know the views of both their supporters and local opponents on this issue, which transcends party. I do not doubt that a vote to remain in the EU will be a vote to hand ever more powers, control and money to the EU institutions, under the judgement of the European Court of Justice. To remain would be to surrender at last the sovereignty of our Parliamentary democracy indefinitely.
As we approach the referendum, the issues involved deserve the closest and most intense scrutiny and discussion. That’s why Conservatives for Britain has made available this debate pack. There is no question of eurosceptic entryism and persecution of dissenters: indeed, for many years we have bled eurosceptics to another party, and our present MPs can rest knowing they are secure in the platform on which they stood.
There is no need for personal attacks – but every need for open and critical discussion of the issues. That is what I am calling for. At this time, and throughout the period of the referendum, let everyone concentrate on how our great country is to be governed – not on unwarranted and unhelpful fears of persecution. Politics may be something of a contact sport, but there is no place in our Party for brutal tactics.
This is the moment to test our characters and our intellect by facing the important issues of the day objectively and courageously in a spirit of goodwill.