Ming speaks out on Euro referendum – “we must have a vote”

by Stephen Tall on September 14, 2007

The Lib Dems have just issued a press release in which Ming Campbell has demanded in unequivocal terms a referendum on the UK’s position within the European Union. Here’s the full text:

Ahead of his Party Conference, which begins tomorrow, Liberal Democrat Leader Menzies Campbell, has called for the public to be given a real choice on the European Union.

Menzies Campbell said:

“It’s time for the political parties to end the shadow boxing on Europe and enter into an honest debate about the European Union.

“We will not know the final shape of the European Reform Treaty until later this year and that is the right time to make the judgement as to whether the changes it proposes necessitate a referendum. My own view is that in its present form the substantial differences between the draft Treaty and the old constitution mean that a referendum is not required.

“But I am not prepared to allow David Cameron to lead the Europhobes and their allies in sections of the media, to distort the debate on Europe without challenge.

“Fifteen years ago Liberal Democrats demanded a referendum on the Maastricht treaty which established the European Union, but the Conservative government refused it. Today David Cameron tries to pose as a champion of the people but in truth he wishes to restrict the British people to a choice on a narrow question about a treaty of far less significance. I don’t intend to let him get away with offering us such a false debate and such a false choice.

“If there is to be a referendum it shouldn’t be restricted to a comparatively minor treaty. It must be a decision about the EU as a whole. Let’s have an honest debate on the European Union followed by a real choice for the British people. That means a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. We would ask the British people the big question – whether to remain in the European Union or not.

“I will lead the Liberal Democrats at the forefront of that debate. We will make the overwhelming case for Europe and trust the people to make the right choice.”

This seems to me a positive statement, and interesting in two ways. First, that the party has been quick to try and head off an unnecessary row ahead of next week’s Brighton conference, rather than let any discontent rumble on.

And, secondly, that this might be one of the first instances in which the Lib Dem blogopshere has made a genuine impact on the party. Ming’s pre-conference interview in which he suggested a referendum was “not necessary” (while floating, but not committing to, the idea of a referendum on the EU) provoked a strong reaction, which perhaps took the party leadership by surprise.

Agree or disagree with what Ming says, but I’m glad to see him getting back on the front foot on this issue.