I want Britain to leave the EU as soon as possible. That is why I think Adam Afriyie’s proposed amendment to the EU Referendum Bill is a bad idea.
As James Wharton, the Bill’s proposer, writes for us this morning, while there is some superficial attraction in the idea of a 2014 referendum, the reality is that the Afriyie amendment is a wrecking proposal – by design or by unintended consequence, it threatens to prevent us getting any in/out referendum at all. Most Private Member’s Bills are destroyed by being talked out of time – and this amendment offers to help Labour and the Lib Dems in their endeavour to do just that.
If it is brought forward, it may attract some support from Conservative backbenchers. It certainly won’t be passed (unless Ed Miliband were to do a striking volte face, in which case Afriyie will have shot himself in both feet), but it will take up scarce time in the Commons, eating away at the prospect of giving the British people a say on EU membership.
As regular readers will know, I expect that Cameron’s renegotiation process will fail. Brussels is sufficiently arrogant, and sufficiently armoured by decades of treaties and directives, that they are extremely unlikely to contemplate the fundamental changes that would be needed to deliver a free trade only EU. But that is no reason not to allow optimists to try. At absolute minimum, trying and being rebuffed by the EU’s blinkered bureaucrats will provide a very public demonstration of exactly why we need to leave the EU, something which does no harm to the eurosceptic cause.
Winning over waverers in that way increases the chance of a eurosceptic victory – sinking the Referendum Bill would exterminate those chances.
I claim no insight into Adam Afriyie’s motivations in bringing this idea forward, but as a Parliamentarian he must know the damage he risks doing to our chance of getting that Referendum Bill through.
Some comparisons are already being drawn with the Maastricht Rebels, but they were focused on practical action to prevent harm being done to Britain’s sovereignty. This just looks like grandstanding regardless of the cost to the very same principles they held dear. I’ve had the good fortune to know a number of Maastricht Rebels over the years, and it’s safe to say that Adam Afriyie is no Maastricht Rebel. They wanted results for the nation, not attention for themselves, and carefully weighed the consequences of their actions accordingly.
If I could leave the EU tomorrow, I would. But I don’t have that power, so I have to support the option that offers the best chance of that happening. Afriyie’s amendment is a pie in the sky, while Wharton’s Bill – unamended – is the real deal. I hope Conservative MPs will see that and reject the amendment out of hand.