As promised elsewhere, I will answer any questions received on this blog in public (unless the questioner specifically asks for a private answer).
What about the LD abstention on the vote last night. If you’d been the MP for Winchester would you have abstained?
No. I would have voted for a referendum.
I was a parliamentary candidate at the last election and this is what our manifesto promised:
MAKE EUROPE MORE EFFECTIVE AND DEMOCRATIC
Membership of the EU has been hugely important for British jobs, environmental protection, equality rights, and Britain’s place in the world. But with enlargement to twenty-five member states, the EU needs reform to become more efficient and more accountable. The new constitution helps to achieve this by improving EU coherence, strengthening the powers of the elected European Parliament compared with the Council of Ministers, allowing proper oversight of the unelected Commission, and enhancing the role of national parliaments. It also more clearly defines and limits the powers of the EU, reflecting diversity and preventing overcentralisation. We are therefore clear in our support for the constitution, which we believe is in Britain’s interest – but ratification must be subject to a referendum of the British people.
In response to the change from the Constitutional Treaty to the Lisbon Treaty, I personally see three possible lines of argument:
- It’s not the same as the Constitutional Treaty. It’s a smaller revising treaty. So I’m not bound by my promise at the last election.
- Although several people have argued that Lisbon has a different role and works a different way, see Quaequam Blog for an example, in the end, I’m not convinced – I think we need to compare the overall effect of the two treaties, not the way they work. While I admit the two treaties are not identical, I don’t believe the end-point is different enough to justify a different response. If the start point is the same and the end point is nearly the same, then I don’t believe the intermediate step should be treated differently.
- I’ve changed my mind. I was wrong to propose a referendum on the EU Constitution – since I now think referenda are wrong for issues of this complexity.
- There are definite issues with this particular referendum because it’s a complex treaty and there are many people and publishers who would be keen to turn the referendum into a ‘do you like what you’ve heard about the EU?’ vote. It would have been a major challenge to ensure the substance of the treaty was addressed.
- However, in practice, the EU Constitution was, if anything, more complex than Lisbon, not less – the same problems would have applied – and I made a public commitment to supporting a referendum on that. I’m also committed to a referendum on EU membership – so, while convenient, I also don’t think this argument stacks up (unless I’d genuinely had a Damascene conversion on referenda and also opposed the one on EU membership – and I haven’t and don’t). I’ve also previously stated publicly my liking for the clause in the Swiss constitution permitting a ‘delete all and replace’ referendum if 100,000 people propose a new national constitution: a generic ‘anti all referendums’ line would not be true to my previously stated beliefs.
- We promised a referendum on a treaty on Maastricht, and on a treaty that takes us to almost the same point as Lisbon, so we should stick to our guns and vote for a referendum.
- As I understand it, all the elements of the Constitutional Treaty we praised at the last election are still in the Lisbon Treaty. (I’m open to be corrected on this).
- At least for me personally, the duck test therefore applies*. We need to treat the Lisbon Treaty in the same way we committed to treat the Constitutional Treaty.
So, what would I have done in the Commons on Thursday night?
- I’d have voted for an in/out referendum
- I’d have voted for a Lisbon referendum
If they had passed, I’d then have campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU and for us to ratify the Lisbon treaty.
Is Lisbon enough? No. The EU still needs further reform to be more open, more accountable and more easy to understand for the peoples of Europe.
I once found a quote that summarised my feelings about the EU (and many other institutions) I think from Mill:
My love for an institution is in proportion to my desire to reform it.
There’s a lot to do to make Europe work better for British people: more open, more accountable, less fraud and waste, with stronger action on climate change and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy.
But those are matters for a separate blog post.
* A strict user of the ‘duck test’ could argue that while Lisbon has a very similar end point to the constitutional treaty (‘quacks like a duck’) it doesn’t look the same as the constitutional treaty (much shorter etc, not ‘delete all and replace’) – so it doesn’t actually ‘look like a duck’ and so the duck test doesn’t apply – but there’s been enough sophistry in this debate already.