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.

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30 comments

Ming seems to be following your advice Stephen: http://oxfordliberal.blogspot.com/2007/09/ming-you-could-have-said-it-so-much.html

by Gavin Whenman on September 14, 2007 at 2:03 pm. Reply #

Any similarity between my suggested text for Ming and his actual one is, I’m sure, entirely co-incidental 🙂

by Stephen Tall on September 14, 2007 at 2:05 pm. Reply #

So. Where do we sign up for the “no” camp?

🙂

by Jock on September 14, 2007 at 3:42 pm. Reply #

As a Conservative (for the Constitution but against a referendum), Ming has scored a ‘blinder’ here. Yes, let’s have a referendum on our continued membership of the EU – and vote “yes”!

by Justin Hinchcliffe on September 14, 2007 at 4:10 pm. Reply #

Do Lib Dems ever actually think about what the effect of their policies would have if ennacted?

A referendum on leaving Europe?

Do you want to liquidate the city of London?

by Anon on September 14, 2007 at 5:24 pm. Reply #

No, we want to win the referendum – the testimony of the City would help no end.

by Alex Foster on September 14, 2007 at 5:26 pm. Reply #

Whilst many would see this as a positive statement from Ming, I feel that it is somewhat divisive.

What Cameron and the campaigners are calling for is a Referendum on the Constitreaty as we were all promised in the Labour manifesto.

By calling for a Referendum on EU membership, Ming is playing a totally different game, one that does nothing for the people of the UK.
Very divisive.

by IanP on September 14, 2007 at 5:42 pm. Reply #

Is he making it up as he goes along?

by Dafs on September 14, 2007 at 5:51 pm. Reply #

This is absolutely right. It gets to the core of the issue – are we in Europe or out. Excellent announcement.

by Stuart on September 14, 2007 at 7:06 pm. Reply #

It’s right and it’s clever. We don’t need a referendum on the Reform Treaty as the issues on the table are too important and complex to be judged on the basis of a show of hands. Besides, the Europhobes only want it so they can portray EU interests and British interests as being two entirely different concepts, paving the way for a campaign against continued EU membership itself.

Instead, Ming is calling their bluff by calling for a referendum before the Europhobes have had a chance to properly make their case whilst the population is still generally in favour of continued membership. A yes vote in that referendum would re-establish the mandate to pass treaties such as the Reform without having to jeopardise progress by having unnecessary referenda. It would also kill the Europhobes only viable argument – that the British public didn’t know what they were getting into when they voted yes in 1975.

by Tony Koutsoumbos on September 14, 2007 at 10:26 pm. Reply #

I think this is spot on.

Its about time we had the discussion and in answer to Anon – Thats precisely the point that we need to get over

by Mike Cox on September 14, 2007 at 10:28 pm. Reply #

A good pro-active announcement, marking us out as different, distinctive and relevant.

by robbeadle on September 14, 2007 at 10:45 pm. Reply #

I concur with the chorus, and wonder how accurate Stephen’s guess may be. Ming restating something a lot more strongly and making a damn fine point?

Yes please. Let’s have the vote, let’s put the case, let’s put the issue to rest.

by MatGB on September 14, 2007 at 10:54 pm. Reply #

For the record, Ming has been thinking about this idea for some time, and, not surprisingly you might say, I think it is a bold and astute move – and I’d like to set out the full argument, including why the *draft* Reform Treaty doesn’t appear to warrant a referendum – but also why Ming is right to call for the REAL referendum people want.

Although we haven’t seen a *final* draft treaty emerge yet, as matters stand, I don’t think we will need a referendum to ratify this Treaty. There have been significant safeguards and changes to the now-dead constitution put in place to satisfy me that it does not meet the constitutional test to require a referendum. Of course, if the final Treaty is genuinely constitutional then this issue can be revisited – but people should look at the draft, not at reports of the draft!!

this comes from someone who supported the need for the European Constitution. I felt that it would have been good for Europe and good for Britain. I supported a referendum on that for specific reasons, in particular the changes to the Justice and Home Affairs pillar and placing the Charter of Fundamental Rights at the centre of the Constitution. But this new Reform Treaty makes significant changes.

For example compared to the proposals in the European Constitution:

there are further safeguards on the impact of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which has been taken out of the treaties proper.

Britain can now choose whether it takes part in anti terrorism or cross border crime initiatives, they can’t be imposed on us.

There is no question of the UK giving up its seat on the UN Security Council and we retain control over our national defence and foreign affairs.

All references to a new Constitution have been dropped and the old treaty structure remains.

Other changes tend to be minor advances of the Nice Treaty of 2001.

But this European Union that now exists is a far cry from the European Community that the British people voted to join in 1975.

That is why I think we should have a referendum in Britain on the EU – and we should ask the people of Britain the big, crucial question that really matters – should we stay in the EU or withdraw.

A great European leap forward is not contained in this new reform treaty – this makes minor changes compared with the last treaty– the Single European Act of 1986, signed by Margaret Thatcher, made huge and substantial advances and extended QMV into many significant areas notably in the single market. The Conservatives didn’t call for a referendum then?

The last great leap forward for Europe took place in the Tory negotiated Maastricht Treaty of 1992.

That is when the European Union itself was created.

That is when the concept Monetary Union was formalised

That is when the concept of EU citizenship was created

That is when a formal Common Foreign and Security Policy was introduced

That is when the Justice and Home Affairs pillar was created

That’s when the European Council was formalised as an institution

That’s when the European Parliament gained the power of co-decision

That is when whole new areas of European policy were introduced such as on industrial policy, consumer protection, education and culture.

Maastricht was the critical treaty in constitutional terms – every treaty since has been in effect a minor reform of this Maastricht base.

Now I agree with the Maastricht Treaty, I am an ardent pro-European who believes that Britain can be more prosperous and more powerful as part of the European Union. We are far better able to tackle big issues like climate change and terrorism together than we are apart. The single market is good for British jobs and helps British companies to compete and flourish. When we pool our sovereignty like this, we gain far more power over the big issues that we can’t tackle alone. But when we pool sovereignty in such a large way as we did in the Single European Act and at Maastrict the British people ought to have the final say.

So we should have had a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty because it represented a big constitutional step forward. The British public should have had the right to decide whether it wanted to take that step, confidently, as a nation.

The Liberal Democrats called for a referendum then. But the Conservatives said no and denied Britain the choice on whether to take this huge constitutional step.

Well that decision has come and gone and Europe has moved on. But Britain hasn’t moved on.

Our debate on Europe is confused and muddled based on misunderstandings and spin.

Let’s face it, the argument the Tories are having in their party now aren’t about this new Reform Treaty. It is actually about the concepts in a treaty that they rammed through Parliament 15 years ago and that many of them still don’t accept.

So when William Hague complains about the concept of a European Foreign Policy we should remind him that it was his vote and the Conservative party that ratified the Treaty that set it up – and with no referendum.

The question of Britain’s place in the European Union has poisoned our national politics for decades. As a nation, we need to lance this boil and decide once and for all if we want to be a part of this European Union or not.

This is the big question, whether we like it ask it or not. This is the question that we should face.

My answer is would be an unequivocal yes. I would relish the opportunity to get out their and campaign – to take on those who would have us out – to banish the myths and have the argument on the big issues. And for me, as I’m sure it is for most people in this country, that question is not whether the Commission President should select Commissioners from a shortlist, or whether they should be voted in by QMV – or whether someone’s title should be High Representative on Foreign Affairs or Foreign Minister. If we are going to have a referendum it should be the big one.

That question is should Britain remain in this European Union?

So I say, let Parliament go about its normal business of ratifying this new treaty. In our representative democracy that is the correct way of going about things. Then when that is done we should ask the British people whether they wish to remain part of this European Union or not.

by Ed Davey on September 15, 2007 at 12:17 pm. Reply #

But Ed the point is that we supported a referendum on the original constitutional treaty and given that the revised treaty is essentially the same document we have to be consistent. For example, there are 105 areas of competence listed in the original treaty and the same number in the revised treaty. There were 61 areas of QMV in the original treaty and 62 in the revised version (stuff on climate has been added). Most people say it is 95% the same document, including Giscard D’Estaing who of course chaired the original Constitutional Convention. Whether we are pro or anti EU is not the point; it is about consistency. Ming has got this wrong.

by Dafs on September 15, 2007 at 1:06 pm. Reply #

The public demand has been a vote on the treaty, not EU membership.

The public would much rather have a less deep relationship with the EU. We are denying them their say on that.

If it’s going to be a vote essentially on accepting everything that comes from Brussels in future – which this in effect will be – or to leave, the vote will be to leave.

by Sid on September 15, 2007 at 2:23 pm. Reply #

What an absolute mess Ming has created this week. If people want the UK out of the EU then can vote UKIP. His call for a referendum on EU Membership is a foolish smokescreen. Whereas a lot of people just want Brown, Cameron and Campbell to keep to their promise that a referendum will be held on this treaty.

I find it very patronising that people believe that this is an insignificant treaty and that there have been substantial changes from the EU Constitition that now apparently makes it unneccessary to hold a referendum. And besides apparently is too complicated for ordinary people to decide for themselves.

I have therefore resigned from the Lib-dems in disgust. Can someone please remove Ming? No wonder people are cynical about politicians when they don’t keep their promises.

by Dave Manuel on September 15, 2007 at 4:36 pm. Reply #

A referendum on continued EU membership would surely be won as convincingly as the 1975 referendum.

by Cleo on September 15, 2007 at 5:50 pm. Reply #

Sid (16) – The result of a referendum on EU membership is within the power of the UK Government to deliver 100% – we can stay in if there is a YES vote and we can leave if there is a NO vote. The outcome of a vote on the reform treaty is not within the UK Government’s power to deliver: how can the UK Government unilaterally change the nature of the EU?

The British people may want a totally different relationship with the EU but remain a member. That however is not on the table. That is not an option that is open to them or the UK Government. The referendum proposed by Ming treats voters like grownups. It lays out the genuine options that they have and asks them to choose.

Well done, Ming. Over to you, David and Gordon.

by Stuart on September 15, 2007 at 6:33 pm. Reply #

How odd. How come it is in the power of the French and Dutch voters for them to have a referendum on the Constitution and for them to change the whole thing into a repackaged Treaty – and yet this is denied to the British? This is a false argument. It should never be a straight choice between Europe getting ever closer politically or leaving the EU altogether.

If it is not in the power of the UK government to influence or reject then why did Gordon and Ming offer up a referendum in the first place?

by Dave Manuel on September 15, 2007 at 10:09 pm. Reply #

Ahh, I see now! When I first heard about this I was rather taken aback, now I really have to say it might just work as a popular policy.

by a radical writes on September 16, 2007 at 12:08 am. Reply #

Dave (comment 20) – to be honest, it is a case of Europe: in or out? It is indeed that simple.

The EU is not going to be some customs union or whatever it is that the Tories want. The choice is between being in Europe and having lots of compromise and dealmaking and having to put up with not getting 100% of what you want all the time – or getting out.

Voters are grownups and they need to be treated like grownups. That’s the honest choice… so, do you want to be in, or do you want to be out? You decide.

I suspect the reason some people, esp anti-Europeans, don’t like asking the people a fundamental question like this is because they fear that despite 30 years of tabloid screaming and lie after lie about Europe… after all that… the great British public will go out and back Europe. And all those Sun-reading pub bores will have to shut up for a few years.

And, on your second point, (a) I don’t know, I don’t answer for Gordon Brown or the Labour party and (b) a vote on the EU as a whole is actually a bigger question and means giving the public more power – and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

by Stuart on September 16, 2007 at 1:10 am. Reply #

I supported a vote on the treaty because I believed it was about time the country had a proper debate on Europe rather than the usual screaming Sun headlines.

However the referendum on the whole issue of Europe is a much better idea as it will focus attention on the “Big” issue.

The electorate could vote the treaty down in the same way as they like to give the government a good kicking at a by election without feeling any pain of the consequences. They won’t have that luxory in a referendum on a “We are In or Out” referendum

and to answer someone elses criticsm re why we didn’t allow a referendum in Scotland….well in my opinion we got it wrong in Scotland

by Mike Cox on September 16, 2007 at 8:07 am. Reply #

Sure, it’s a mess. But the whole EU Constitution process has been a train wreck from the start anyway.

I was always somewhat ambivalent about a referendum, my main concern being that, in the UK, whatever the referendum was ostensibly about, it would actually be about our fundamental relationship with the EU.

It’s not that the British are incapable of coming to an informed decision about a treaty. Of course they could. It’s just that they think that scrutinising treaties is something they elect politicians for. And they’re right.

In the UK at least, a referendum regarding the European Union could never be about the pros and cons of Clause 6 of Paragraph 9 of Schedule B. The river runs too deep for that. If we have a referendum at all, it has to be about the very idea of the European Union itself.

A referendum on something calling itself a Constitution For Europe might have fulfilled that role, if only its framers had been able to produce something that didn’t require a degree in international law to digest. Sadly, the proposed Reform Treaty is even further off the mark. (What they should have done is write a “We the People” style Constitution, and then put all the dense legal stuff into the treaty implementing it. Alas, too late now.)

The EU has been the elephant in the room of British politics for decades. In calling for a referendum, Ming is simply pointing it out. The party may or may not decide to adopt his suggestion (remember he can only propose, not impose) but, to paraphrase President Bartlet, nothing should be too sticky for a Liberal Democrat Conference.

by Paul Griffiths on September 16, 2007 at 9:31 am. Reply #

Okay for those who believe that voters are only capable of deciding whether they want to be in EU or not at all AND that our representative system does such a fine job in giving people what they want – here’s a question.

If Gordon Brown wanted to adopt the Euro – should the British have a referendum on that?

As it seems people here really believe that the British voter can have no impact on the EU Treaty. That what ever deal is struck by our leaders that we should submissively accepted as we are too thick or helpless to be involved. Yet again – there are examples where other countries have done just that. We can and should directly influence the direction of the EU.

And Stuart you mention that you have no say in the Labour Party but you crucially miss out Ming. All these arguments that are been given by those supporting Ming for not wanting a referendum on the Treaty can be applied to the Constitution!! So why did he support a referendum for the Constitution and not the Reform Treaty?

by Dave Manuel on September 16, 2007 at 10:35 am. Reply #

Dave @ 25

It’s possible that your post crossed mine in the ether but just in case it didn’t:

I explicitly said that the British are capable of deciding on a treaty. My argument is that they won’t, because it’s not what they’re really interested in.

Personally, I don’t believe the decision to offer a referendum on the Constitution was taken for principled reasons in the first place, so I don’t regard it as a denial of principle to refuse a referendum on the Reform Treaty. For my own part, I argue that the Constitution differs from the Treaty in that the former could (just about) have been used as a proxy for the referendum that the British actually want.

Britain isn’t “other countries”. If you don’t think that the UK has a unique relationship with the EU project, you simply haven’t been paying attention.

by Paul Griffiths on September 16, 2007 at 12:08 pm. Reply #

Dave (25): as I have stated before somewhere on here, the reason that a referendum on a treaty is not an effective way for a people to help direct the EU is that it is hard to decipher the result.

What I mean by that is this: say the Govt holds a vote on the Reform Treaty and the electorate votes “no”. Well, what in the treaty was so objectionable? No-one would know. So, what bits need renegotiating? No-one would know. How would that help the British people govern the direction of the EU, as you suggest? It wouldn’t.

Has the new treaty been renegotiated to meet the demands of the French and Dutch electorates, as you suggest? I don’t know, and neither do you, because the “no” votes in those countries don’t actually provide us with a blueprint of what those people want from the EU. So, your belief that referendums on treaties empower people to govern the strategic direction of the EU is flawed and wrong.

Plus, going back to the hypothetical UK referendum on the treaty and a hypothetical no vote: say the Govt can somehow magically work out what the people objected to so much with their no vote (let’s call that part of it, “Clause X”, for the sake of argument). It may go back to the other 26 Member States and tell them that Clause X needs to be renegotiated. But maybe we have accepted a less-than-perfect Clause X because other countries gave ground to us on Clause Y and Clause Z, which we really wanted. If we want to delete Clause X we may then face calls from other countries to have Clauses Y & Z withdrawn – so we’d lose what we wanted from the treaty.

27 countries just cannot negotiate and draw up deals like that. It’s a nonsense.

That stated, to answer your point on the euro: yes, I would have a referendum on the introduction of the euro because a subsequent decision to leave the euro would be so difficult to carry out. For that reason it would demand the consent of the electorate. The EU on the other hand is easy to leave. We could start the process tomorrow if we wanted to.

by Stuart on September 16, 2007 at 3:06 pm. Reply #

Again I find this infuriating – that somehow the British people are like cows who wander around aimlessly, apathetically and have identical views.

Firstly the majority of the British want a vote on the Treaty. So we cannot say that they all the British are not interested in the issue.

In 1975 the British voted to go into the EEC and since then UKIP have not won a General Election and forced an exit from the EU.

However since 1975, there is significant amount of people who feel that Europe has become more politically intergrated – and has gone and continues to go further than they would like. And there are others who would like a direct say in the matter via a referendum.

Stuart – In regards to finding out what Clause X is – I think you are missing the point. The politicians come up with a possible solution but the people should have a power of veto. If it is vetoed – as with the French and Dutch – it was pretty well believed that they found it too market driven and the politicians went back and came back with a possible Treaty that took into account their concerns.

So again it is entirely possible. Yes it messy but so is democracy. What is nonsense is that certain countries get a vote (and thus more likely to get concessions) where this country is denied despite being promised one by all three main parties.

And I draw you back to this – which I’m still waiting your opinion. How does it look to the voter when Ming calls for a referendum on the Constitution but then does a U-turn on the Reform Treaty which is substantially the same!?

by Dave Manuel on September 16, 2007 at 5:22 pm. Reply #

Dave – I am sorry, but how do you know that the French and the Dutch thought that the Constitution was too market-driven? Probably because you read about it in the papers. So, you want to put the power into the hands of the media. You want to put the power to interpret the result into the hands of the commentariat, not the people.

That is the whole reason why a vote on a treaty is a crap idea. Why? Because the result is unclear. What are people objecting to, if they vote no? No-one knows – but of course the press will make up its mind and, as always, seek to dictate public policy. This is what happened in the case of France and the Netherlands.

A vote on membership is clear: a yes vote means we stay in, a no vote means we leave. Easy-peasy, and leaves no room for spinning by either the press or politicians.

On your specific question: I believe that the public will split into three groups – the majority probably won’t care either way; another group (mostly anti-European) will support the idea; and a final group (mostly pro-European) will be against because they fear defeat.

I just don’t think that our streets will fill with placard-wielding protestors seething with anger at the fact that the LibDems are not offering a vote on a Constitution that no longer exists but instead are offering to place even greater power into their hands with a vote on a more fundamental question.

And I shall now let you have the last word, Dave, as I don’t want this to last forever…

by Stuart on September 16, 2007 at 6:34 pm. Reply #

Yes your answer reminds me of Lord Falconer who believed there was no need for a referendum on PR because there was no “groundswell” for change from the public. Despite Labour’s manifesto promise to hold a referendum on it in 1997.

So promises count for nothing unless there are people in the streets holding placards?! Hardly democratic when we judge by a vocal minority.

I certainly don’t think the media is the bogeyman here. The French rejected the Constitution. Yes – analysis was made. The EU ‘reflected’ then repackaged specifically with the ‘supposed’ French concerns. Then Sarkozy gets elected on a platform which says he won’t hold a referendum based on the changes made to Constitution/Treaty.

Hardly prefect but much better than having Labour and the LIb-Dem promising a referendums in their manifestos only to break their promises BEFORE ANOTHER ELECTION when minor changes are made to the Constitution. Do you really think the public will view our politicians any better than they break such promises?

by Dave Manuel on September 16, 2007 at 8:16 pm. Reply #

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