Tuesday, 4 September 2007

More pressure for EU "treaty" referendum

Gordon Brown faces increasing public pressure over Europe with the publication of a new poll for The Daily Telegraph showing that almost two-thirds of voters want a referendum on the European Union reform treaty.
That, by the way, is the "reform treaty" that has been described as being 90% the same as the rejected EU constitution by the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, as 96% the same by the think-tank Open Europe, as "very, very near" to the constitution by the arch-Europhile Valery Giscard d'Estaing, and as "essentially the same proposal as the old constitution" by the European commissioner Margot Walstrom. That "reform treaty" - not a different one.

But hang on, what's this?

Mr Brown has so far rejected calls for a national vote on the grounds that the new treaty is much less far-reaching than the original constitutional treaty abandoned in 2005 after Dutch and French voters rejected it.

Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, and Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, repeated that view yesterday.

Douglas Alexander is an unscrupulous little liar, and Ed Balls is talking...well, look at his surname and then take a wild guess.

But the YouGov poll discloses that only five per cent of voters agree, with 63 per cent wanting a national vote on the issue.

With more than one in five (22 per cent) still uncertain on the issue, the number could rise far higher as the pro-referendum campaign gathers pace.

I think that Brown will fight tooth and nail to avoid any public vote on the matter. After all, no politician wants to call a referendum that he is more likely to lose than to win. However, it is true that the campaign for a referendum is gathering pace: as the Telegraph points out, even some strongly pro-EU figures, such as the vile Keith Vaz, have called for a referendum. It will be interesting to see how well attended the pro-referendum rally, due to be held in London on the 27th October, will be.

Of course, getting a referendum is only the first half of the battle: having got it, we will need to win it, and preferably by a large margin. I believe that this can and will be done, but it should not be regarded as a foregone conclusion. The likes of Vaz have not come over to supporting a referendum out of any respect for the public voice; rather, they see a referendum as inevitable, and accordingly wish to make a virtue of necessity, and gain brownie points for professing a willingness to listen to the public. I note that Vaz has said that he wants to turn the referendum, from being focused on the constitution, to being a de facto referendum on Britain's continued membership of the EU. While I believe that we must one day have such a vote, now is not the time. Vaz wants to turn the referendum into one on EU membership, rather than the EU constitution, because he believes - rightly - that a vote on EU membership will, for now, be easier for his side to win. If and when a referendum comes, pro-EU elements must not be allowed to distort the question in such a manner.

But all that is in the future: the question of whether we will get a referendum at all still hangs in the balance, and the increased momentum of the pro-referendum campaign is something to be thankful for.

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