Ming says EU reform treaty referendum “not necessary”

by Stephen Tall on September 12, 2007

In a pre-conference interview in today’s Financial Times, Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell has dismissed calls for the party to back a referendum on the EU reform treaty – but has kept open the possibility of a re-run of 1975’s ‘in or out’ poll:

… Sir Menzies, a “pro-European”, told the Financial Times the new EU reform treaty was “sufficiently different” from the original constitution to avoid the need for a plebiscite. He said the only case for a public vote would be on a much broader “in or out” question about Britain’s membership of the EU, to prompt a serious national debate on Europe.

However, such a question is unlikely to be put by any government in the near future. “My judgment is a referendum is not necessary on this document,” he said in an interview ahead of next week’s Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton. “But if we were to have a referendum, then it is worth considering a more fundamental referendum, in a sense of being in or out.”

A formal decision on the party’s position will be taken after Mr Brown signs a final treaty text at an EU summit in Lisbon next month, but few believe it will differ greatly from the draft agreed in Brussels in June.

Three Lib Dem MPs – John Hemming, Mike Hancock and David Heath – have publicly called for the party to repeat its Maastricht pledge, and to let the public decide. A recent poll of Lib Dem Voice readers found a majority (54%-37%) in favour of the party supporting the campaign for a referendum.

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Good for Ming. He will be sadly missed. Is he stepping down at conference?

by Chris Paul on September 12, 2007 at 10:46 am. Reply #

Pity, Lib Dems used to be more democratic when the Maastricht treaty was accepted. But I have understood, that Liberal Democrats are planning to remove the “Democrat” part from their name, anyway.

by Rob on September 12, 2007 at 11:10 am. Reply #

Ming is such a joke. Our MPs will get hammered for this piece of elitist arrogance.

New leader please.

by Gordon on September 12, 2007 at 11:32 am. Reply #

How out of touch can one person be?

by Gavin Whenman on September 12, 2007 at 11:46 am. Reply #

…and welcome to all the members of other parties who have given just a first name and no link, in commenting here (I especially like the irony of one calling himself ‘Gordon’!). At least we know who Chris Paul is! (a Labour activist). I’ve been around long enough to remember the days when the other parties didn’t bother attacking us!

Incidentally I have heard (although cannot confirm) that although David Heath was reported as having supported this call, he did not in fact do so.

by Jeremy Hargreaves on September 12, 2007 at 11:47 am. Reply #

Screw you Jeremy. I’m a Liberal Democrat.

Editor’s comment: please note.

by Gordon on September 12, 2007 at 11:51 am. Reply #

Gordon – well if you really are then my apologies, but I note you are still not willing to give your full name which would seem to me to be a normal thing for someone who is what you claim to be, to do.

Also just to clarify I was certainly not casting aspersions on Gavin Whenman whose comment crossed with mine. He is certainly a proper LD – you can tell because he has given us his full name and a link to his website!

by Jeremy Hargreaves on September 12, 2007 at 12:02 pm. Reply #

Excellent decision Ming – how representative of public opinion (on the question actually asked) are referenda anyway? Most of my friends who are pro-referendum have never read the constitution and just hate foreigners because thats what the Mail tells them to do. Mings non populist approach is warming on me we want more prinicpled opinions not just people thinking because we are democrats we should have a vote on everything the right wing press want to vote on!

by Neil Bradbury on September 12, 2007 at 12:37 pm. Reply #

I did not notice there was a poll on LDV, and in any case I am undecided. Undecided that it is until I have heard the debate at Lib Dem conference. I suspect that applies to a lot of people in the party.
Like most Lib Dems I am pro-European and I can usually trust the instincts of the party leadership.
I think a debate is very much needed at the moment.
More fundamentally we need to sort out as a party in a general sense when we support referenda and when not.

by Geoffrey Payne on September 12, 2007 at 1:01 pm. Reply #

Bit strange to assume, Jeremy, that just because one doesn’t give a full name it means one can’t be a Liberal Democrat.

And as for giving a website link… well, I don’t have a website! Does that make me a Tory?

by Eldoc on September 12, 2007 at 3:42 pm. Reply #

Another leader whose party promised a referendum at the last election now denies the British people what they clearly want.

I would suggest you get a new leader but I’m not a Lib Dem.

by Ralph on September 12, 2007 at 4:34 pm. Reply #

7/8 – Editor’s note: If this Gordon with the e-mail address he’s given is a Liberal Democrat, then I’m a banana.

If he is truly a Lib Dem, can I respectfully ask him not to use those kind of insults.

More generally, can I remind Tory trolls that they are most welcome to comment on this site, but not by pretending to be Lib Dems.

by Stephen Tall on September 12, 2007 at 5:14 pm. Reply #

Not being as active in the party as I used to be I don’t know whether Liberal Democrats are as fascinated with Constitutions as was the case with Liberals. It was almost de rigeur in the Liberal Party to be able to write a constitution at the drop of a hat, and there might then be a debate about amendments which would quicken the hearts of the cognoscenti at an EGM. Is it being elitist or anti-democratic to suggest that perhaps the general public would find such discussions irrelevant and tedious, and that debate on the European ‘Treaty’ would simply resolve into the question of ‘Europe: In or Out?’ I think that we have been populist in the past over calling for a referendum on issues which are essentially far too complex to be capable of a sensible resolution into a yes/no answer. If you disagree, ask yourself: am I really going to plough my way through the Treaty making lists of things I like and dislike about it, and at the end of that process take a balanced view of which way to vote? I know that I’m not going to.

by tony hill on September 12, 2007 at 5:49 pm. Reply #

It’s a shame Ming picked today to write about climate change on here, as his unilateral decision – never a wise one for a leader – to change party policy is going to mean no-one on here pays it any attention. And it makes certain no-one in the media will notice what he has to say on an issue far more important than a pile of Eurocratic tidying-up. Sigh.

Strategically, then, he’s wrong. But that would matter less if he was right on the principle. For months, we’ve argued that we should make up our mind when the final details are ready. A lot of us whose instincts are to let the people decide were happy with that – a constitution is a constitution; a treaty might just be a bore. Now Ming’s jumped the gun, that means none of the rest of us can do the sensible thing and wait and see either. Will it shut up his MPs who’ve been calling for a referendum? I don’t know. But it’s an invitation for all the rest of us just to tell him he’s got it wrong, and can’t he do without that?

Back in 1991, we said we’d let the people decide on a written constitution. Back in 1992, we said the Maastricht Treaty was a major constitutional change, and so the people should decide. We’ve stuck to that ever since. By announcing he wants that overturned, Ming has got it badly wrong.

by Alex Wilcock on September 12, 2007 at 7:19 pm. Reply #

There is absolutely no point in asking for our views on a complex document which nobody can understand.

by Laurence Boyce on September 12, 2007 at 9:58 pm. Reply #

Following the logic, Laurence, we probably shouldn’t be asked our views about how the country should be run, either.

by Stephen Tall on September 12, 2007 at 10:12 pm. Reply #

Not at all. There’s no need to master the minutiae of government in order to cast one’s vote at a general election. Basically you just need to have been following the news a bit, and have formed a rough view about who you like and who you don’t like. The system is quite deliberately fuzzy and works reasonably well.

But a referendum on the EU treaty suddenly brings everything dramatically and dangerously into focus. How many pages is this bloody treaty? If it’s more than three, I’m not going to read it. If there is to be any referendum on Europe, then it should be on the fundamental question: in or out?

by Laurence Boyce on September 12, 2007 at 10:24 pm. Reply #

If we used referendums more, of course, they would be a less alien concept.

by Stephen Tall on September 12, 2007 at 10:37 pm. Reply #

And yet no less arbitrary for that, Stephen. I am pro-referendums in principle, but in practice find myself tortured in the voting booth – as I suspect does Laurence? – by the fact that I haven’t had time to read 17 white papers, the last three years’ worth of academic political journals etc etc. And the question becomes more acute when the voting decision involves such (relatively) unfamiliar implications as does any kind of vote on “Europe”. However much one trawls for info, I suspect plain unfamiliarity with what the complex document MEANS (let us say) is actually the problem Laurence is talking about.

Stop me if I’m rambling.

by Libertine on September 12, 2007 at 11:23 pm. Reply #

Gavin – as the Face of Boe said, “You Are Not Alone” 🙂

by Hywel Morgan on September 12, 2007 at 11:37 pm. Reply #

This is very alarming. I feel quite disorientated. It is such a new feeling – on this issue, I agree with Laurence!

by Jeremy Hargreaves on September 13, 2007 at 10:10 am. Reply #

I know, I’m feeling a little strange too!

by Laurence Boyce on September 13, 2007 at 10:20 am. Reply #


Is it really such a ‘complex document’ that it can’t be summed up on a sheet of A4 in such a way that anyone can understand it?

The real issue is that the Lib Dems made a commitment they have now broken.

by Ralph on September 13, 2007 at 1:11 pm. Reply #

In response to Alex, the reality is that Ming had to say something. How is he supposed to respond when he is asked by the media where the Lib Dems stand on this issue? “I will give you my answer when we have discussed it at conference”?
Although in principle I agree he should not unilaterally decide policy, on this issue I think he had no choice but to do so.
However we do need a debate on this issue, I am not clear in my own mind how to sell our current policy position and I hope things will become clearer at conference.

by Geoffrey Payne on September 14, 2007 at 7:57 am. Reply #

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