Earlier this year, the European Union Act 2011 became law. This and any future government is now obliged by statute to hold a referendum before it can ratify a new treaty or treaty amendment that transfers powers or competences from this country to the EU. That’s a Conservative manifesto pledge delivered by the Coalition Government.
With that safeguard in place, the debate within the Conservative Party is about the future shape of Britain’s relationship with the EU. The crisis in the Eurozone has reminded us that jobs and prosperity here are inextricably linked to what happens elsewhere in Europe. It’s important that we get the relationship right. My view remains that set out in our 2010 manifesto: it’s in our national interest to be in the EU but I’d like a more flexible, less centralised model of European cooperation, including key powers returned from the EU to the UK.
It’s in this context that I take the view that today’s motion is the wrong approach. The original petition was for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership but that sharp division between the status quo and quitting the EU does not reflect the breadth of views held in the party or the country. Understandably, the colleagues proposing the motion have amended the original petition to include a third option of renegotiation. But it has been left completely unclear what this means in practice.