EU treaty referendum: the Davey defence

by Stephen Tall on January 22, 2008

I’ll readily confess to remaining uncomfortable with the Lib Dem position on opposing holding a referendum on the EU reform treaty. I do not like to see banner headlines on the BBC News Politics website proclaiming: Lib Dems oppose referendum vote.

It does not sit well with the widely-proclaimed belief of both candidates during the leadership contest that the party needed to become more spiky, anti-establishment, and to put the people – not politicians – in control of their own lives. Nor does it sit well with our previous, principled stance (alone among the three mainstream parties) that the Maastricht treaty should be subjected to a popular vote. On principle, and in campaigning terms, I think the party has made a mistake.

However, credit where it’s due to Ed Davey, our new shadow foreign secretary, who put forward a trenchant and persuasive argument in last night’s House of Commons debate on the Lisbon treaty. Read it for yourself, and judge it for yourself…

–>Edward Davey, Lib Dem shadow secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs]: … we argue for a different referendum—a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Let us face it: a referendum on any EU treaty would become a referendum on the UK’s continued membership. Let us not have that debate by proxy on a treaty referendum. Let us have a debate that people want by asking a straightforward, in or out question. …

Mr. Jenkin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We all know why the Liberal Democrats have adopted this position. It is because they want to be able to say in their manifesto at the next election that they voted for a referendum at some juncture, when in fact they are denying themselves the opportunity of voting for the only realistic referendum on offer. That is a mean, grubby, typical Liberal Democrat trick.

Mr. Davey: If the hon. Gentleman had had the guts to vote with his colleagues for our amendment in the debate on the Loyal Address, we might have been able to get the referendum that the British people actually want. …

The most significant differences between the two treaties lie in the constitutional terms of those treaties. While Lisbon is just another amending treaty making a number of important, if modest, reforms, the constitutional treaty was something quite different. It abolished all past treaties, to replace them with one document: a new constitution. I believe that people have passed over that point and failed to grasp its significance. The Labour Member of the European Parliament, Richard Corbett, has it right when he points out that the DNA of mice and human beings is 90 per cent. the same—it is just that the remaining 10 per cent. is quite important. It is the same with the difference in nature between Lisbon and the constitutional treaty: the 10 per cent. difference moves one from a mouse of an amending treaty through to a fully evolved constitution.

A referendum on the constitutional treaty would therefore effectively have been a referendum on the whole of the EU—Rome, the Single European Act, Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam. It would have been about the complete constitution.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Surely treaties should be judged by their practical and legal effect. That is why two Select Committees of this House, which included Liberal Democrat among its members, concluded that in practical and legal substance, the two treaties are the same. Why does the hon. Gentleman not accept that?

Mr. Davey: The right hon. Gentleman failed to deal with my point that the constitutional treaty would have created a completely new constitution. The reform treaty is an amending treaty. If he cannot understand that, I really despair.

I shall quote the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks [William Hague] who said, when talking about the constitutional treaty, in 2006:

“the fact that it was a constitution, not simply a treaty—would have revolutionised the EU.”

For once, he was right. That is why he ought to recognise that what the Liberal Democrats are saying now, in our proposal for a referendum on EU membership, is far closer to a referendum on the constitutional treaty than the Conservatives’ paltry offering.

We believe that the British people have been denied a say on Europe for too long—on all the treaties and on the cumulative effects of all the changes. Unlike the Conservatives, who denied them a vote on Maastricht, we think that the people should speak. As a party that is strongly committed to the European Union, we want to offer the people the referendum that they really want. I hope that the House will allow a substantive amendment to the Bill to that effect so that we can begin to settle the European question and to draw the poison of anti-European feeling from the British body politic for a generation.

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Mat – if I could find a blushing “smilie” I would use it! Thank you

by Paul Walter on January 23, 2008 at 3:14 pm. Reply #

Surely just the change from having a rotating presidency to having a single person president is a constitutional issue? I don’t give a toss what the document is called, but if it is restructuring the way the EU works in any substantive way, then surely that is constitutional?

I am a Lib Dem member, and I too am very disappointed in the party line: I think that there is sufficient ambiguity as to whether the treaty is constitutional or not that we should have a referendum anyway, to be “on the safe side”. The only reason that this is being opposed is because both we and Labour are afraid that if there is a referendum, then we will lose.

The alternative, to argue “the public won’t understand” is, as mentioned above, intensely illiberal.

by sanbikinoraion on January 23, 2008 at 4:26 pm. Reply #

52. That is a constitutional change, but it doesn’t amount to a constitution.

We are proposing a fuller and bigger referendum on the whole EU constitution, not just on a restricted list of changes.

I have never argued “the public will not understand” and I cannot see anyone above promoting that view – someone merely disagreed with it after mentioning it themselves.

by Paul Walter on January 23, 2008 at 4:35 pm. Reply #

Paul Walter,

“we have not betrayed anything”

Oh yes you have! (Forgive me, I went to a pantomine recently.)

This may allow you to rest easy, but it’s stinking sophistry. You know and I know that this treaty has the same effect as the constitution.

At the last election, the fact that all three parties committed themselves to holding a referendum removed the issue of the EU from all discussion, and myself as a member of the electorate rested easy, safe in the knowledge that the people would have a say in the matter at a later date. By backing out of this commitment, and then to play this game of ‘it’s not the same as the constitution’ is unforgivable. Any MP that votes against this referendum is spitting in the face of the people of this country, and they should not be surprised if the contempt they have for us is repaid in kind.

As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

by Trooper Thompson on January 23, 2008 at 4:35 pm. Reply #


No. A constitution starts from a completely clean sheet and stipulates the structures of an entity. So, for example, it would state that there is to be a parliament and it will be made up of x members, coming from each country at a proportion of x members per million population etc and that it will sit between the months of x and y and pass legislation which will have x impact.

The EU Constitution is a series of treaties which have been signed since the original Treaty of Rome just after the war. What the LibDems are proposing is a referendum on the actual EU constitution – i.e that whole series of treaties which deal with the whole framework of the EU, rather than just one reform treaty at the end which simply amends some of the institutions.

by Paul Walter on January 23, 2008 at 5:03 pm. Reply #

Preen and posture all you like. I was promised a referendum AND I AIN’T GOT ONE, and your party promised to support it and now they’re helping Labour stop us having one, and no amount of spin and sophistry can save you. Why should anyone support your party if you won’t do what you said you would? You’re no opposition party, you’re the Government’s reserve. To hell with the Liberal Democrats – YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT EITHER WORD EVEN MEANS.

by Trooper Thompson on January 23, 2008 at 5:33 pm. Reply #

We promised a referendum on the EU constitution and that is what we have and will vote for in the House of Commons. The Reform Treaty is not the EU Constitution. The EU Constitution is the whole series of treaties since Rome.

by Paul Walter on January 23, 2008 at 6:40 pm. Reply #

Utter vacuous tosh! You promised to support a referendum on the document prepared by Giscard D’Estaing, the document that the French and the Dutch voted on, that was then revised and renamed, including the exact same content, with the exact same effect. That’s what you promised. Now you want to break that promise, and think you can retreat to the moral highground by promising something that you know ain’t gonna happen? If you can’t see how shabby your party’s acted, you must have caught Blair’s disease and now believe your own lies. Stinking lying hypocrits who haven’t got the guts to face the public and argue your case and let us decide.

You make your bed, you lie in it, but don’t ever expect anyone to believe anything your party says again.

by Trooper Thompson on January 23, 2008 at 7:56 pm. Reply #

Oh, it must be sh*t being a Lib Dem.

Change leader every whip stitch, and then, once they are installed you find that there is a little problem..

This one drinks too much..

This one is too old…

This one won’t do as he’s told…

It must be like in the days of BL where patriotic types would insist on buying British Leyland cars, and the Morris Marina / Austin Princess / Triumph Dolomite would be fine as you drove it out of the showroom, and just about until you got it to your home, and then you noticed a few rattles that weren’t there before, and then the problems started…

by You chose the wrong leader - again.. on January 23, 2008 at 9:05 pm. Reply #

Thanks to the trolls this is all getting unwarrantably rancorous. Europe presents problems for all parties (apart from UKIP one would suppose – and look how united they are!): Labour have never clearly decided what their view on Europe is; the Tories are split between those who have a visceral dislike of anyone who doesn’t have English as their mother tongue and the economic realists who recognise a good thing when they see it; and the LibDems who believe wholeheartedly, for the most part, in the European ideal but who are afraid that to proclaim that support will lose votes, thanks to the misinformation peddled to the electorate by the Murdoch press.

I believe that the Treaty is the same as the Constitution and that it is sophistry to argue otherwise. Our mistake was to offer a referendum on the Constitution. Surely as Liberal Democrats we had enough knowledge of what is involved in writing constitutions to know that it is not a process that can conceivably be ratified by a referendum. Writing a constitution involves endless discussion by people who understand the intricacies of such a process – inevitably a tiny subset of the population. A constitution is not susceptible to a Yes/No question: whether you want to belong to the organisation for which the constitution has been written is susceptible to such a question, and that is why Ming was right to reframe the debate in those terms, though our argument would have carried more weight if we had acknowledged our mistake in the 2005 manifesto.

by tony hill on January 23, 2008 at 11:33 pm. Reply #

Having come back to this thread after a gap I see some accusations that to suggest that the electorate may not look deeply enough into the real issues before voting in a “treaty” referendum is illiberal. Perhaps I am the guilty party because of 6 and 20 above where I said
“Does anyone seriously think that any more than a fraction of one per cent of the population will have any real idea of what they are being asked to vote for or against?” and –
“Partly by having allowed the antis to play all the best tunes – often the only tunes – and partly because there will be such a lack of understanding of the issues by otherwise intelligent and well-meaning people, we have reached a position whereby a referendum on the treaty in the UK would wreck something profoundly in the best interests of our country.”

This is in the context of my belief that we are a representative democracy, not a direct democracy with popular votes on specific issues. To be precise I do think referenda have their (very rare)place – mainly to decide big “in or out” issues such as joining or leaving the EU or Scotland leaving the UK etc.

Do those who use words like “illiberal” really think it demeaning to suggest that lengthy,complex, detailed and often specialist legislation is better handled and voted on by those we have elected for that purpose?

This treaty is different from the “constitution” but we should not have proposed a referendum even on the “constitution.” To allow ourselves and our country to be hoist on that petard now makes no sense whatsoever.

Let’s have a bill which sets out for future reference all those categories of issue which will be subject to a referendum – in some cases with a weighted majority. Then rule out referenda being offered in any other circumstances.

by Denis on January 23, 2008 at 11:36 pm. Reply #

Just stumbled across this. Flabbergasted by the self deluding rationalisation displayed. You make much out of insisting we have a referendum on in/out of EU but not on treaty/constitution. This is a complete reversal from initial stance when Menzies Campbell & rest of L-D spokesmen insisted we must not have said referendum on “treaty” as it would become surrogate referendum on leaving EU. Now that it’s clear majority are keen to remain in EU but not cede any more power,stance completely changed as you’ve realised electorate are quite intelligent enough to seperate the issues and vote accordingly.The only way you can force new “treaty” on unwilling electorate is not allow them to have any say. No-one of stature is seriously advocating leaving EU, this is completely spurious. Far from being a principled position as someone above would have us believe, I find this redolent of the worst manipulative and disingenuous instincts of the political class. Liberal? Democrat? My eye.

by CTH666 on January 24, 2008 at 7:53 am. Reply #

58 The 2005 Liberal Democrat manifesto said:

“We are therefore clear in our support for the constitution, which we believe is in Britain’s interest”

So it specifically said “constitution”.

by Paul Walter on January 24, 2008 at 9:20 am. Reply #

63 – That’s the whole point isn’t it! By not calling it a constitution some people think they can weasel out of a promise to hold a referendum.

While it is called a constitution, it is largely the same document.

by Andy Higson on January 24, 2008 at 1:24 pm. Reply #

64 should be – While it is NOT called a constitution, it is largely the same document.

by Andy Higson on January 24, 2008 at 1:30 pm. Reply #

I agree we are not a direct democracy.

BUT apparently we thought the electorate were clever enough to understand the issues in a vote on the Constitution.
We think they are OK to understand and have a vote on the WHOLE issue of Europe.
Same went for Maastricht.

Now we are to say this is not the same so they don’t need to vote..
We are wrong.

There is cleary a view that the public are being denied a vote because it will be lost. By going along with this we look as if wetoo are frightened and are circumventing a vote and a argument we think we will lose.
The ‘whole issue’ vote just looks like changing the question to one we know we can win [and to one that will never be asked].
For a power to the peolpe party, it doesn’t feel right.

by Sal on January 24, 2008 at 2:04 pm. Reply #

66. It may look that way to some – but it isn’t the true situation.

64 and 65: My dictionary defines “constitution” as “The system of fundamental laws and principles that prescribes the nature, functions, and limits of a government or another institution.”

The Reform treaty is not that – it is a just series of amendments. The Constitution of the EU is the collection of treaties back to and including Rome and the Reform Treaty and the Maastricht treaty – the whole lot.

And that is what the Liberal Democrats want a referendum on – the EU constitution – as promised.

by Paul Walter on January 24, 2008 at 2:20 pm. Reply #

[Edited by moderator: the language was, shall we say, a little over-robust]

by Trooper Thompson on January 24, 2008 at 4:50 pm. Reply #

Like I said before, if there is ambiguity between this being a constitution or not, and there are plenty of people arguing both ways, then surely the only responsible position is to vote for a referendum on this document?

That way, if the document is a constitution, no-one has broken their election pledge. And incidentally, I don’t buy for a second that when the parties said “constitution” they meant “a document that we all agree is a constitution”, I’m sure they meant “this document that Giscard D’Estaing is preparing”. That being so, then we still have the same document, just with a different title.

Alternatively, the document is not a constitution, and Britain has a healthy debate on its position in Europe, and makes a vote on a significant international treaty.

Surely no harm done either way?

EXCEPT for the fact that, as James Graham blogged today, the Lib Dem PP and everyone else opposing a referendum on this document is doing it solely on the basis that if the referendum were to be held, that they believe that a “NO” vote would win.

It’s pathetic and childish and I am pretty peeved to be associated with a party playing such games.

by sanbikinoraion on January 24, 2008 at 4:52 pm. Reply #

Also, Paul, you’ve just been pwned by TT @ 69. I’ve just gone and double-checked the manifesto myself and TT is absolutely right.

by sanbikinoraion on January 24, 2008 at 4:55 pm. Reply #

Paul W,

Stop being ridiculous. You know as well as I do that the amending treaty defines “The system of fundamental laws and principles that prescribes the nature, functions, and limits of a government or another institution.”, in this case the EU. You can claim that the EU is not officially an institution, but this is a legal dodge which doesn’t fool many people.

Indeed, as you claim the treaty doesn’t change the way in which the EU will work (bearing in mind it is an amending treaty, so it only needs to define the deltas, not the whole structure), then why do you think is it needed?

by passing tory on January 24, 2008 at 4:59 pm. Reply #

Passing Tory – that thought occurred to me too; surely whether it is labelled as a constitution or a treaty is pretty meaningless since the net effects of either version seem to be the same.

If the results of implementing the treaty or the constitution are functionally equivalent, then what the document is called, and the manner in which it achieves either of the identical results is, basically, irrelevant.

by sanbikinoraion on January 24, 2008 at 5:38 pm. Reply #

Technically it’s not the Lisbon Treaty which would have virtually the same legal effects as the Constitution, it’s the combination of the Lisbon Treaty and the existing Treaties that it would amend.

Once that had been done, it would be open to the Court of Justice to declare that the end result should be regarded as the EU’s Constitution – a not unreasonable step, as the legal contents would be so similar to the previous Constitution, and in any case they have already described the Treaties as “the constitutional charter of a Community based on the rule of law.”, back in 1991 – but to make it more comprehensible to citizens it should be tidied-up or “codified”.

During that process of codification, the word “Constitution” which was noisily removed this year would be quietly re-instated, and as (according to the Court) that would have no material effect on its legal substance, it is doubtful whether it would be seen as a treaty change requiring ratification by the member states. A few minor bits and pieces, such as the flag and the anthem, could also be slipped back in at that time.

So, hey presto, the EU would have erected its Giscardian Constitution, by sleight of hand.

Incidentally, the Court of Justice has long claimed that the principle of primacy of EU law over national law extends to the relationship between EU law and national constitutional law, so that EU Constitution would be deemed superior to the British constitution.

And all that, without any attempt to obtain the consent of the British people, or the consent of any of the other peoples of Europe, with the assistance of the so-called “Liberal Democrats”.

You should be ashamed of yourselves.

by Another Denis on January 24, 2008 at 6:14 pm. Reply #

An ‘In / Out’ referendum pledge is fine in principle. But the problem caused by going back on our original referendum pledge is one of credibility.

People say to me how they’re supposed to believe we’ll honour this new referedum pledge, however appealing or well justified it may be. It’s not good.

I’m at a loss to understand why Nick Clegg doesn’t just do the sensible thing and say the party will stand by the referendum we promised in our last manifesto.

That’s clearly the option that ticks all the boxes; simplicity, honesty, integrity, consistency, and democracy.

by Mike Hanlon on January 24, 2008 at 6:33 pm. Reply #

69. There isn’t ambiguity. It’s perfectly clear.

Perhaps the PP think losing a referendum on an amending treaty would leave us, the United Kingdom, in limboland with the need to have a full referendum on membership after that anyway – so they think it is better to have the proper referendum without delay.

70. I can’t read Trooper Thompson’s remark – I think he was swearing like a trooper. I quoted directly from the pdf on the LibDem website of the 2005 manifesto. Please let me know what you think it says.

71. I didn’t say the RT wouldn’t change the way the EU works. If the RT is a constitution then can you tell me:

a. Where it says how many members the European parliament will have and what powers it will have?
b. Where it says what the powers of the Commission are?
or c. Where it says what the make-up of the Council of Ministers will be?

73. You are actually agreeing with me in that the EU constitution is the combination of all the treaties since Rome including the RT. That is what we need the referendum on.

74. We haven’t gone back on our pledge. We promised a referendum on the constitution and that is what we still support and indeed, have held a vote in parliament on at the last Queens speech debate.

by Paul Walter on January 24, 2008 at 10:23 pm. Reply #

The European Union has had a constitution since the Treaty of Rome. It’s ludicrous to suggest that this is some new thing.

The problem with Giscard’s constitution was that it didn’t change anything; it just rewrote the existing one from treatyese to constitutionese. There were a couple of minor amendments, but that’s what they were – minor. The Treaty of Lisbon is essentially those minor amendments rewritten back into treatyese instead of constitutionese.

Eurosceptics keep getting offended by things that were in the Treaty of Rome – and then pretending that they are some new innovation.

The EU is a constituted structure that is superior to the nation-state. Always has been. It already is a federation – has been since the Treaty of Rome. The so-called federal superstate is something I’ve lived in my entire life – and I’m in my mid-thirties.

If you don’t like it, propose changing it, or propose leaving it, but so-far-and-no-further does require you to actually have a clue how far so far is. And you don’t.

by Richard Gadsden on January 24, 2008 at 10:40 pm. Reply #

I agree with pretty much everything Richard has just said except “it’s already a federation”. Byt most definitions of what a federation is, it isn’t. It’s more closely a confederation with some extra bits, my old lecturer in EU politics called it a “confederal consociation” which is good enough.

I’d like it to be a proper devolved federation with proper democratic accountability at each level and as little as possible decided at Brussels, but that would require a proper rational informed debate. Which we might manage to get after we have the membership referendum.

This threads going to run and run isn’t it…

by MatGB on January 24, 2008 at 10:47 pm. Reply #


It sounds as though we more or less agree with the best sort of EU, but I strongly disagree with you about the best way of achieving this. The current momentum in the EU is very much in the opposite direction – towards greater central decision making – and ratifying the treaty is going to establish this process rather than increase the possibility of changing it. If we want a different EU, the time to debate is while there is some leverage, and that means now.

by passing tory on January 25, 2008 at 11:10 am. Reply #

“A referendum on the constitution” would have been a referendum on whether to move from the present legal position, that laid down in the present treaties, to a new legal position, that laid down in the Constitutional Treaty.

“A referendum on the Lisbon Treaty” would also be a referendum on whether to move from the present legal position, that laid down in the present treaties, to a new legal position, that laid down in the Constitutional Treaty.

Bar a few minor differences, which could easily be adjusted afterwards, the legal changes are the same.

Previously the Liberal Democrats said that those legal changes were big enough to merit a referendum, and promised support for a referendum in their 2005 election manifesto – which, NB, was the manifesto on which Nick Clegg was elected, like all the other Liberal Democrat MPs.

Now having been elected on that manifesto Nick Clegg, and most of the other Liberal Democrat MPs, claim that almost exactly the same legal changes do not merit a referendum.

by Another Denis on January 25, 2008 at 6:39 pm. Reply #

79. The manifesto promise was for a referendum on the constitution which we are still supporting – a referendum on all the treaties, including the Reform Treaty, since Rome – i.e the complete constitution of the EU. i.e “in or out”.

The Reform Treaty is not a constitution so we have not broken any promise.

by Paul Walter on January 25, 2008 at 8:00 pm. Reply #

Now you really are demeaning yourself.

The French had “a referendum on the constitution”.

Their “no” meant that the Constitutional Treaty couldn’t come into force, but it didn’t affect the treaties which were already in force – the present treaties, as amended up to and including the amendments agreed at Nice.

The EU has carried on under those treaties, and France has continued to be a member state of the EU, because their referendum was only on the new treaty, NOT on the existing treaties, and therefore not on EU membership.

If those drafting the 2005 Liberal Democrat manifesto had intended to pledge support for an “in or out” referendum, then no doubt they would have had sufficient command of English to say so.

by Another Denis on January 26, 2008 at 12:53 pm. Reply #

81. In 2005 a constitution was being prepared and that is what the LibDems promised a referendum on. The EU Reform Treaty is not a constitution. The LibDems still support a referendum on the EU constitution, which is, in effect, an “in or out” vote.

by Paul Walter on January 26, 2008 at 3:16 pm. Reply #

Paul Walter

There’s a huge difference between a referendum in which a “No” vote would result in us leaving the EU, and a vote on whether to ratify a (new) constitution for the EU, which is what was in the manifesto.

Obviously we are proposing something very different from what we proposed in 2005. I think it’s clearly just a manoeuvre to avoid the issue of whether there should be a referendum on the Treaty.

Chris Phillips

by cgp on January 26, 2008 at 4:13 pm. Reply #

Which is why France, having rejected the EU Constitution in a referendum, is no longer in the EU.

Thanks for explaining that.

by Another Denis on January 26, 2008 at 4:14 pm. Reply #

I should add that my 84 was in reply to the unprincipled nonsense in 82, not the good sense in 83.

by Another Denis on January 26, 2008 at 4:18 pm. Reply #

83. Chris, we promised a referendum on the EU constitution. The Reform treaty is not the EU constitution. It’s a list of amendments. So, in order to fulfil our promise to have a referendum on the EU constitution we have to have a referendum on all the treaties since Rome – which is effectively a “in or out” vote – it is one and the same.

84. I don’t think the French comparison is relevant because the document they rejected was then withdrawn.

by Paul Walter on January 26, 2008 at 4:54 pm. Reply #

Paul Walter wrote:
“So, in order to fulfil our promise to have a referendum on the EU constitution we have to have a referendum on all the treaties since Rome – which is effectively a “in or out” vote – it is one and the same.”

No. We did not propose an “in or out” vote in 2005, and there is absolutely no reason why we “have to have” one now.

The vote we promised in 2005 was on whether to adopt the proposed constitution, or to leave things are they were.

If the practical effect of the Lisbon Treaty is similar to that of the proposed constitution, as most commentators seem to think, then the equivalent referendum would be on whether we should ratify that treaty, or leave things as they are.

And you know as well as everyone else that there simply is not going to be an “in or out” referendum. It is not on offer. The choice we have to make is whether we support a referendum on whether to ratify the treaty. Our current policy is just a diversionary tactic.

Chris Phillips

by cgp on January 26, 2008 at 5:10 pm. Reply #

“If the practical effect of the Lisbon Treaty is similar to that of the proposed constitution, as most commentators seem to think, then the equivalent referendum would be on whether we should ratify that treaty, or leave things as they are.”

No that’s not true. The Lisbon Treaty is not a constitution and therefore does not have a “practical effect” which is similar to a constitution. It just makes a few changes.

by Paul Walter on January 26, 2008 at 5:15 pm. Reply #

Paul Walter

If your argument is that the practical effects of ratifying the treaty are _not_ comparable with those of adopting the constitution, then that’s another matter.

But it seems to me that that isn’t the argument that’s being made. I’ve seen very little discussion on this thread about the _practical_ differences between the two.

And if that’s the argument, then the issue of an “in or out” referendum is irrelevant. Even if, for reasons I don’t understand, some people in the party want another “in or out” referendum 30 years on – even though no one else apart from those on the fringes is calling for one – then it’s an entirely separate issue.

Chris Phillips

by cgp on January 26, 2008 at 5:27 pm. Reply #

I am warming to my namesake – 81, 84, 85 et al – even though I suspect he is a Eurosceptic and I (the ORIGINAL Denis) am a Europhile. Those who argue that a referendum on the Giscard “constitution” would have been in effect an “in or out” decision are up a gum tree, I’m afraid, as Another Denis has eloquently pointed out by citing the French example.

If you have the stomach please go back all the way to my 6 above.

1. It never was a constitution asnd should not have been so designated.

2. The Lib Dems made a mistake in offering a referendum in our representative democracy. Why Oh why can political parties hardly ever say – “We’ve thought about it and we’ve changed our mind!”

by Denis on January 26, 2008 at 5:30 pm. Reply #

Oh, this guy Clegg has got you spooked, now hasn’t he ?

You wait till he starts talking about the value of private health insurance…

by Dennis the Menace... on January 26, 2008 at 6:04 pm. Reply #

I think I have said all I can say – twenty times. Ta-ra!

by Paul Walter on January 26, 2008 at 6:14 pm. Reply #

On a lighter note, what does the phrase ‘economically and socially liberal’ mean in terms of the current £100 billion spend on welfare/benefits, and the move to Wisconsin style workfare which, say, Frank Field is in favour of for Labour and which the Tories appear to be casting a jealous glance at ??

And what will Lib Dems say when Nick Clegg tries to break it to them that he will not turn down any nuclear plants / heathrow extension which Labour approve during their term of office ??

by Dennis the Menace... on January 26, 2008 at 6:20 pm. Reply #

I have to say, this is the world’s dullest thread but since you bozos insist on lengthening it and I’m still getting sent your postings every time you make them, I thought I’d jump in and try to bash some sense into you all.

Arguing over whether the Lib Dems did or did not break a manifesto commitment is irrelevant on at least two grounds. The first, narrow, point is that the Constitutional Treaty does not exist any more. We can argue about whether supporting an in/out referendum or the Reform Treaty referendum is closest to honouring that until we’re blue in the face (several of you appear to be already) but the fact is that Treaty is not what is being debated.

Secondly, opposition parties are not bound by manifesto commitments. This fact ought to be obvious: the Lib Dems do not have the same manifesto as the one used in 1931 for instance. The Lib Dems have already ditched lots of manifesto commitments such as support for the 50p income tax rate for example. The Conservatives completely disowned theirs. So banging on about “you promised” is not only babyish but irrelevant.

The only pertinent issue is not whether the Lib Dems are honour bound to support a referendum but whether they should. You all seem obsessed with the former issue and utterly disinterested in the latter.

Give it up and get over yourselves.

by James Graham on January 26, 2008 at 6:34 pm. Reply #

Initially when the Liberal Democrats announced that their policy is to have a referendum on EU membership rather than the substance of the treaty, I was concerned that this was suddenly our policy without any debate.
However I now think the position of the Parliamentary party is correct. First of all they had to take a position at a time when they did not have the time to consult the party membership.
And secondly they are right that when people complain about the lack of a referendum, and you ask them what specifically they are concerned about, they do not mention any detail within the treaty, but they do outline a list of complaints about the EU itself.
Logically then that is what people should vote on; something that they understand.

by Geoffrey Payne on January 26, 2008 at 8:16 pm. Reply #

So who said this, then?

“If any Government propose to agree to a major shift in control or any transfer of significant powers from member states to European institutions, or to agree to any alteration in the existing balance between member states and those institutions, there should be a referendum of the British people.”

Menzies Campbell, 2003, explaining the criteria the Liberal Democrats apply when deciding whether a referendum is justified.

And when the legal changes which would have been introduced by the Constitutional Treaty were examined, they were deemed to meet those criteria; but now that virtually the same changes would be brought about by the Lisbon Treaty, albeit by an alternative mechanism, they are deemed not to meet those criteria.

I’m afraid it just doesn’t wash.

by Another Denis on January 26, 2008 at 8:18 pm. Reply #

Geoffrey Payne wrote:
“Logically then that is what people should vote on; something that they understand.”

The only snag with that argument is that we end up advocating a referendum on whether we should stay in the EU, which no one outside the political fringes is calling for.

Meanwhile, returning to the real world, we’re going to vote against a referendum on a treaty which – in practical terms – will apparently have much the same effect as one which our manifesto of 2005 said “must be subject to a referendum of the British people”.

Certainly there’s nothing forcing us to be consistent with our manifesto commitment of only a couple of years ago. But on the other hand, aren’t we supposed to be in a new era of openness and honesty now, not in yet another one of sophistry and cynicism?

Chris Phillips

by cgp on January 27, 2008 at 12:07 am. Reply #

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