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Peter Bone MP: It's time for an ‘in’ or ‘out’ referendum on Europe

Peter Bone Peter Bone is Conservative MP for Wellingborough.

Today I am writing the article not in my normal position as a right-wing Conservative but for the first time as a coalitionist. I am writing it not as a Eurosceptic, but as someone who is trying to bridge the gap between Euro-enuthusiasts and Eurosceptics.

It has been nearly 36 years since the last referendum on Europe. This means that no one under the age of 54 has had their say on the European Union. This referendum however, was not on whether we should stay in or come out of the European Union; this was to see whether or not we stayed in the Common Market. The exact question was ‘Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?’ In other words, the question was wholly about trade, not in any way about the European Union. The British people have never been consulted on the European Union.

If my amendment 48 to the European Union Bill is passed tomorrow, there would have to be a binding ‘in’ or ‘out’ referendum on our membership of the European Union, if two hurdles are first cleared:

  1. A referendum is triggered under the European Union Bill due to a proposed transfer of competency; and
  2. The British people vote against such a transfer of power.

My amendment will give people the chance of what we have been deprived of since joining the European Union. That chance is to vote for whether or not the British people in fact want to be in the European Union. This would be a momentous occasion and finally put an end to the debate onc and for all. Whether the people vote to stay in or to withdraw from the European Union, at least they would have a choice. This would also allow Euro-enthusiasts and Eurosceptics to unite in allowing the British people the final say.

Having an ‘in’ or ‘out’ referendum would be in line with the Liberal Democrats' manifesto, which stated that:

“The European Union has evolved significantly since the last public vote on membership over thirty years ago. Liberal Democrats therefore remain committed to an in/out referendum”

This would surely therefore please the Lib Dems and gain their support, having a referendum on something that they want, rather than having a referendum on something that was not in either the Conservative or the Liberal Democrat manifesto, such as the AV referendum.

Surely then, the only reason this amendment will not gain support from the Liberal Democrats is out of fear of the outcome - and this surely is not a reason not to let the people of Britain have a choice.

However, the Lib Dems and their supporters would not be the only political party to be pleased with a referendum. The Tory supporters would be especially happy; in my view the vast majority want such a vote. Most Conservative MPs support my amendment in either public or in private.

In my opinion many of the public want the chance to vote on whether we stay ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the European Union, and this amendment would give them this chance.

However, what I believe to be one of the fundamental issues concerning this Bill, is what David Cameron, our Prime Minister so admirably stood up for in the Party manifesto. The Conservative manifesto stated that we needed to have more free votes in committee on important key issues (page 67, Invitation to join the Government of Britain; Conservative manifesto 2010). Clearly this is indeed a key issue, one that affects so many millions of British people, so Conservative MPs should be given a free vote on it. This should not be a whipped vote, it should be for Parliament to decide.

If this amendment were to become law, I believe it would stop a future government supporting a transfer of powers to the European Union; it would also give who was ever in power a very strong bargaining position with the European Union. Any future government that tried to transfer powers to the European Union without the safe guard of and ‘in’ or ‘out’ referendum, would, I think, be in the most serious difficulty.

There are job cuts, tax increases and spending cuts, which I believe have all been essential to cut the deficit. But how can it be correct that during the last five years of the Labour Government, our net contributions to the European Union were £19.8 billion, yet under the first five years of the Coalition Government, it will be £41 billion? Drastic cuts at home, vast spending in the European Union. I think enough is enough and we should come out of the European Union.

However, it is totally irrelevant what I think; it’s what the British people think that’s important. It is time for an ‘in’ or ‘out’ referendum on the European Union.


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