Friday, 14 September 2007

Menzies Campbell lies and dissembles

I see that Sir Menzies Campbell has added his voice to those calling for a referendum. Well, he sort of has, but mainly he hasn't. To be precise, he has called for a referendum on British membership of the EU itself, dismissing the "reform treaty" as "comparatively minor".

There are two points here. First, when he says that the reform treaty is "comparatively minor", he is lying. The reform treaty is only "comparatively minor" if the EU constitution itself was comparatively minor - after all, they are essentially the same. The reform treaty will entail the handover of a considerable number of powers from the UK to the EU, not to mention the creation of a de facto EU foreign minister, and the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into British law, at a time when the overwhelming majority think that it is we who should be taking powers back from the EU. To dismiss this as some sort of irrelevancy is deceitful, undemocratic, and treacherous.

Secondly, it is to be noted that Campbell has, like Keith Vaz before him, attempted to turn the question, from being focused on the specific issue of the treaty, to being focused on the general issue of whether or not we should be in the EU at all. In fact, Campbell has gone further than Vaz, since Vaz only wished to frame the debate in such a way that it appeared that voting against the treaty would lead to EU withdrawal, whereas Campbell wishes to ignore the reform treaty altogether, and simply ask "EU membership - yes or no?".
Of course, neither Vaz nor Campbell is a big fan of popular democracy. The only reason either of these pro-EU fanatics has suggested a public vote on anything is that they believe that a referendum is now almost inevitable. If it is indeed almost inevitable, then that is cause for celebration.

However, as I have written before, it is imperative that both the referendum question and the debate surrounding it stay focused on the treaty, and are not allowed to turn into a de facto (or indeed, a de jure) vote on EU membership. The reason that pro-treaty elements want to shift the parameters of debate is that while they are virtually certain to lose any referendum focused on the treaty, they would probably win a referendum on EU membership itself, and they are, of course, keen to fight any campaign on the ground which offers them the best chance of victory. Having won, they would then aim to claim their victory as a mandate for all further handovers of power, at least for the next thirty years or so, whether the public wanted these handovers or not.

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