European Movement UK

Britain's future is with Europe! Join the debate and put your opinion forward!

The People’s Pledge campaign claims to be in favour of a referendum on EU membership. The European Movement does not support this campaign: while it is not necessarily against a referendum on further developments in the EU – should Britain join the euro, for example – the European Movement does not believe that a referendum is required to confirm British membership of the EU. However, that isn’t really what the campaign is about.

It is motivated not by a belief that constitutional questions should be settled by referendums, but because such a referendum is the means by which Britain might leave the EU. By all means campaign against EU membership if you wish, but don’t dress your campaign up as something it isn’t.

Five reasons are put forward in favour of a referendum on EU membership (full text here): they are the usual eurosceptic arguments and here are our replies:

1. “No one under the age of 54 has had the chance to vote on our relationship with Brussels”

There are many constitutional issues that have not been put to a referendum even as recently as 1975. The retention of the monarchy, for example, or independence for Scotland. Do the supporters of the People’s Pledge also want referendums on those questions, too?

Kelvin Hopkins MP, a leading supporter of the People’s Pledge, opposed his own government’s proposal to hold a referendum on electoral reform in February 2010, so he has zero credibility in arguing that constitutional questions should be put to referendums.

It is true that the EU has changed considerably since the referendum in 1975, but every one of those changes has been approved by parliament. They have the same “democratic, moral legitimacy” as anything else parliament has done. Strange that people who claim that the House of Commons is losing its powers also deny the right of the House of Commons to use the powers that it has.

2. “The EU now makes a majority of the laws we must obey”

It is simply untrue that a majority of British laws originate in the EU. Each year, the EU agrees only around 490 laws, whereas Westminster produces around 3,500 annually.

And it is also untrue that the EU is obliging Britain to privatise industries such as the railway system and the postal service. The decision whether or not to do this is entirely national. After all, in France, there are no moves to privatise SNCF or La Poste.

3. “The UK has less than 10% of the votes in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament”

To be part of a political community is to accept that other people also have a say in shared decisions. If the UK has about 10 per cent of the population of the EU, what ought its percentage of the votes to be?

As far as referendums are concerned, there have in fact been 32 referendums in 19 of the current EU member states on membership of the EU or on new treaties: the results were 27 in favour and 5 against.

4. “The EU is costing Britain more and more money”

Fraud in the EU budget, while too high, is no higher than in the UK budget. The accounts for government departments such as Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Defence are regularly qualified by the National Audit Office.

The UK was not forced to contribute to the loan to Greece: it chose to. And since then, has chosen not to do so again. Because the UK is not in the eurozone, it is not part of the eurozone’s financial provisions; however, it is a member of the IMF and thus contributes to the IMF’s activities. If people think that the UK should withdraw from the IMF, they should say so.

5. “The EU wants to give itself new powers of ‘economic governance’”

Every European treaty has to be agreed unanimously by all the member states. The UK is not a member of the eurozone and can protect that status in any future treaty; it can also ensure if it wishes that it is not subject to any new obligations. If other European countries wish to agree a new treaty among themselves without involving the UK, they should be free to do so, but that does not mean that they will apply to Britain.

Not only do these five reasons not stand up to scrutiny, there are two further reasons why a referendum on the status quo would not be a good idea.

First, let us think about a Yes vote in favour of membership (this would be the outcome for which party leaders David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Alex Salmond, Ieuan Wyn Jones, and Caroline Lucas would be working; against them would be Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin).

It would settle no argument. The eurosceptics would surely carry on campaigning against the EU. After the referendum in 1975, the campaign against membership was relaunched as soon as 1976.

Secondly, any debate needs to be honest. If a candidate knowingly makes false allegations about his opponent in a general election, there is redress available afterwards, as Phil Woolas discovered. But we saw that, in the behaviour of the campaigns for and against the Alternative Vote, a referendum campaign makes adherence to the facts much harder to enforce. A referendum on Europe conducted under a cloud of lies and misinformation would not serve its ostensible purpose of empowering the British people, and we can see from the false claims made by the eurosceptics already how they would intend to fight such a campaign.

The European Movement supports British membership of the European Union and argues the case for more democracy, effectiveness and accountability. A substantial set of reforms to the existing EU treaties might well merit a referendum. But until then, we should work to make the European Union work better, rather than setting a course for the exit door.

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  1. So, if you are so confident of the case for the UK to stay in the EU, why are you afraid of a referendum? It seems to me that an IN/OUT vote would clarify the UK stance on the EU (rather than 1 fot in and 1 foot out). Vote in, and we are in, lock stock, the lot, including Euro membership et. Vote out, and we are out.

    But as I see it the EU desnt like voters making choices.. ( French, Irish and Dutch referenda).. it simply bypasses the voters descisions. The EU may be many things.. but it is mainly Un-democratic.

    Put your case and lets have a vote.. or are you scared??

    Bet you dont print this!

  2. And as a further comment to the above blog.. you manage to mention only party leaders who would campaign to stay in the EU.. Ill give you the nationalists and Nick Clegg.. but Cameron and Miliband have votes to think about and would not like to be seen to be backing a lame horse. So they would stay quiet on the issue.

    Farage has made his position clear. Griffin is an irrelevance (unless you are trying to smear the EUSSR-sceptic side of the arguement) . And who is Lucas? irrelevant.

    Point is, the MAJORITY of UK voters want a say, the last referendum in 75 was on staying in a COMMON MARKET, not what exists now. Would you say a general election every 35 years is ok?

    Finally, your last paragraph on lies and smears in campaigns is laughable.. the last time the EU budget was signed off as acceptable was ………………………..errrrrrrr , when? GIVE US A VOTE!

  3. And finally..

    You argue for more democracy and more accountability.. very laudable aims. So why do you contradict those aims by supporting the EU?

  4. Your lock, stock and barrel Yes vote (including the euro and Schengen) would leave nowhere to go for the people who want to keep British membership as it is. That includes the three largest political parties in this country (given that the economic conditions for membership have not been met). So, not much of a choice then, is there?

    As leading eurosceptic Neil O’Brien wrote, “Only offering people a polarising “in or out” referendum would be a dishonest attempt to push people into positions they don’t hold.”

    As to democracy and accountability, without the EU, how would international decisions ever be democratic and accountable? The EU is not perfect, but it is (1) getting better and (2) better than the alternative. See here for a description of how a Europe without the EU would work.

  5. You say “…but don’t dress your campaign up as something it isn’t.”

    Are you suggesting that the People’s Pledge campaign does not actually support an EU membership referendum? I would like to see the evidence for that.

    While, as you explain, their take on the situation may be wrong, those five points do seem to be about the extent of the EU’s influence or costs and not whether those are good or bad per se.

    For example, we can certainly argue that the money we spend on the EU is a good deal, but we cannot argue that the amount is not going up. Similarly, we can explain the good reasons for it, but neither can we argue that the EU is not trying to increase economic governance within the eurozone. And you confirm point 3 is also accurate in your own reply.

    So I’m not sure that just dismissing this campaign as “eurosceptic” is a satisfactory response. Indeed, I see they have some pro-Europeans on board and people who I would imagine will vote ‘Yes’ if the referendum comes about.

    While a yes vote would undoubtedly, as you say, not silence eurosceptics, it would make that campaigning absolutely irrelevant politically. I have no problem with such people continuing to waste their time in that eventuality. I’m surprised you don’t also find that an appealing prospect. Or is it that you just feel a ‘Yes’ vote is not possible? Hardly the level of confidence we expect from this forum in particular.

    Finally, I note you refer to a “substantial set of reforms” that may justify a referendum, which is typically followed by the case being made, such as on the Lisbon treaty, that a given change isn’t ‘substantial’ enough. The term has a discrediting whiff of anti-democrat about it that will never do justice to the pro-European case.

    I really think that pro-Europeans can do better than this.

  6. Richard Laming @ IV

    I would see the referendum as being between a ‘Yes’ that finally legitimises democratically the current balance of powers between our government and today’s EU (relative to what we voted on in 1975) and settles that seemingly interminable and unproductive debate, and a ‘No’ that demands a different relationship.

    In the event of a ‘No’, there would then have to be some kind of debate on what that ‘new’ relationship should entail and a timetable by which a replacement treaty with the EU must be in place so as to minimise disruption to trade etc.

    I’m not sure how that process could be made equitable and democratic, being a bigger matter than would be acceptable to leave to the whims of the government of the day. Perhaps a second, multi-option referendum would be required. The issue is of such a constitutional level that I for one wouldn’t be opposed to that.

  7. The fourth statement is surely true? You don’t really address it, you just distract from it. If a convincing argument could be made for the financial benefits to the UK electorate of our place within the EU as opposed to the widely publicized financial disadvantages to UK citizens of EU membership, public opinion would alter radically, but such an argument has never been made – and when, as Niel Kinnock endeavoured to address fraud in the EC, his wife was caught by a fellow MEP signing the register in order to claim parliamentary expenses unduly……………..well!

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