Monday, 4 November 2013

European Union (Referendum) Bill comes up for review.

It was, I seem to recall, a Tuesday evening and I was sat at my desk in the EP. Nikki Sinclaire was in the adjoining office. Some time earlier we had been talking about the government's offer to debate matters in parliament if 100,000 citizens would present a request by petition. There was no mechanism in place at that time, nor did there appear to be any real hurry to put one in place. Nikki had identified this as an opportunity to call for a referendum on our country's continued membership of the EU.

Nikki suggested some words, I put them down and sent them through to her, she e-mailed me back some changes, I finished it off. It didn't look bad at all....

"We the undersigned call for a binding national referendum to decide whether Her Majesty's Government should invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to negociate the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union...."

The campaign was launched at a meeting in Torquay on September 3rd 2010, and so we set out to find 100,000 signatures.

There was uncertainty as to whether 10 Downing Street would accept the petition. They accepted it, in fact they took in over 200,000 signatures.

There was uncertainty as to whether the Commons Backbench Business Committee would debate the matter. They debated it, and we saw the biggest backbench revolt the government had experienced up to that point.

The idea of a referendum was voted down, but the matter would not go away. Nikki's polling proved that the people wanted to have their say.

This coming Friday, Nov 8th, we will see the Commons review the European Union (Referendum) Bill.

What impressed me was the level of cross-party support for the petition. Only UKIP failed to support us. Indeed, a UKIP member who had asked if he should support the petition kindly forwarded to me a letter he had received from the UKIP leader's office. Here is a short extract: "Petitions, I may say, are useful for publicising issues and recruiting activists; but, where such a fundamental policy as rejecting the EU is concerned, there is no prospect whatever of a pro-EU government's acceding to a petition."
However, once it became clear that we were winning the battle, the referendum suddenly became UKIP's 'greatest achievement'.
As recently as last month, a journalist in Strasbourg reported to me that two UKIP MEPs had told him that they were opposed to a referendum on this matter.
Of course, this is not an isolated case. During the 2010 General Election campaign, HS2 was the main issue on the doorstep. This is a project that will have serious implications for West Midlanders and indeed many people in the UK.
UKIP's manifesto for that election included the party's desire to: 'introduce three high-speed lines linking London to the Midlands, northern England and Birmingham.' That reads to me like an approval of HS2!
Now that opposition to HS2 has become a major dynamic, guess what? UKIP is now 'the only party that has consistently opposed HS2'.
There have been attempts to airbrush the 2010 manifesto out of existence, but you can find all you need to know here. 

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