Gale`s View – Wednesday 29th May 2013
Before the House of Commons rose for Whitsun, and while the Prime Minister was in America, Mr. Clegg, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party and Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition government took Prime Minister`s Questions.
I asked Mr. Clegg if, given his party`s manifesto commitment to an EU referendum, he would support government parliamentary time for a Private Member`s Bill introducing Mr. Cameron`s legislation, should a sympathetic backbencher be fortunate enough to secure a place in the lottery for such bills.
I would not seek to suggest that Mr. Clegg actually lied at the dispatch box but what I got by way of an answer” was a lot of flannel about commitment to a referendum should there be a treaty change” and not much else. We can, I think, take that as a no”!
I do not happen to believe that the people that I represent share the obsession with the EU that is to be found in some quarters of the Westminster Village. I believe that they are much more concerned with the economy and everything – jobs, mortgages, healthcare, education, the armed forces and the like – that flows from it. They are, however, concerned about immigration and unfortunately that has a lot to do with....the European Union. We now know from Lord Mandelson that New Labour, in the 1990`s , went looking for immigrants to pack our low-paid jobs, take British citizenship and, presumably out of gratitude, end up voting Labour. That is why no proper controls were placed upon those coming to England from Eastern Europe.
In order to hold an In-Out” referendum on our membership of the EU we have to pass a paving” or enabling bill to allow the government to call it, and that is what the recent ruckus has all been about.
The media in general, and the Salford Broadcasting Opposition in particular, have sought to present the vote on an amendment to The Queen`s Speech as a Tory Rebellion”. It was, in fact, no such thing.
First, I have been in the House long enough to know the difference between a whipped and a free” (unwhipped) vote and you cannot rebel against a free vote. I know that there’re are a handful of Conservative MPs who feel that they, or somebody else, should be the Prime Minister rather than David Cameron and it is true that Ministers, down to including Ministerial aides, abstained on the vote but the fact is that most of those of us who voted for the amendment regretting that an EU Referendum bill was not included in the Queen`s Speech did so for a very sound reason.
The public does not trust politicians to deliver on Europe. The Labour Party promised a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and then ratted on the promise and signed it anyway. The Liberal Democrats said very clearly and in writing before the last General Election that they would offer an in-out” referendum. My own party, under Mr. Cameron, has promised a post-re-negotiation referendum in the next parliament but given past history it is not surprising that the electorate is sceptical. That is why many of us want to see the enabling legislation, if not the actual referendum, passed in the lifetime of this parliament. If people know that the necessary Act is on the statute book then they might just believe that they are going to have their say. We are the only parliamentary party that is in a position to deliver on this issue.
My colleague Mr. James Wharton, from the North East, has got lucky in the ballot for Private Members` Bills and will shortly be introducing the Conservative Party`s EU Referendum Bill. This means that, in the fullness of time, Mr. Miliband and Mr. Clegg will have to nail their colours to the mast. Will they trust the electorate and vote to give people a say, or will they defeat the bill and deny people the right to vote on this issue. Watch this space!