News came on Monday that the Commons will finally debate an In/Out EU Referendum within weeks and became clear yesterday this will fall on October 27. This is the first time EU membership has been debated for over three decades.
Therefore, I make one plea to the Government – please don’t whip the vote. A majority of British people now believe we would be better off out of the European Union, so why quell balanced discussion about it and gag many MPs who privately believe we should leave? The reality is that a referendum is unlikely anyway until after the next election, and this vote is indicative not legislative.
At conference I launched a pamphlet ‘The Ultimate Plan B – a Positive Vision of an independent Britain outside the EU' that explains how trade will be business as usual if we left the EU and would open up new opportunities to make our country more prosperous and free. It details the mechanism of leaving, how we can secure existing trade and jobs, and build a greater share of international trade after leaving the EU. It lists a range of freedoms it can achieve and debunks obstacles to withdrawal. Those are the issues that need to be freely debated.
I dispute Paul Goodman’s assertion that this will split the Conservative Party in a harmful way as, I personally feel, this issue has become more of an apolitical conscience issue than a party political one, and should be treated as such. This really is not about left/right. There is an instinctive belief on both sides where Britain should be in the world. Why, therefore, is Europe any different than hunting, civil partnerships and any other issue the Conservative Party has different views on? There have already been 150 so-called 'rebellions' since the Coalition was formed, and business continues still does it not? Indeed one of the great strengths of the Coalition is the acceptance of its wide range of views.
Let’s have an open debate in Parliament where MPs are free to discuss the merits and practicalities of leaving the EU and not err on the side of caution under the gaze of the Whips. This whole Referendum exercise is, after all, meant to be about bolstering democracy. It is, frankly, what the people want to hear – too often the people believe Westminster to be behind the curve on issues that the public feel strongly about: the Human Rights Act, Immigration and even Europe. Now is the time for bold, open minded leadership, to let MPs speak freely on the EU and let them debate the merits, mechanisms and practicalities of leaving the European Union and engaging with the wider world. Freedom of speech is after all one freedom we all believe in.