It probably came as a surprise to most Lib Dems to hear that it is possible to have a secret vote in the European Parliament at all, let alone when as few as 20% of MEPs call for one. Press reports that some members want a secret vote so they can safely vote against the EU Budget are shocking, because knowing how elected representatives vote is surely the most basic piece of information required to hold them accountable.
If the EU Budget is rejected, after a secret vote, there is not the slightest doubt that it will be seized upon by those in the UK who want us to leave to leave the EU. Not only should our own MEPs, but also ALDE as a whole, should be opposed to a secret vote in this case, and they should act to change the Parliament’s rules to make secret votes impossible.
The comment (if accurately reported) from Edward McMillan-Scott in the Sunday Times (£) that ‘British politicians might find secrets ballots a bit iffy but the parliament has voted like that in the past’ - is not quite the ringing condemnation we would hope for, but we are pleased to note the Chris Davies and Sarah Ludford have said they will oppose a secret vote.
Liberal Reform have written to Fiona Hall, Leader of the Lib Dems in the Parliament to urge her to oppose secret votes and to give a number of assurances:
- None of our MEPs will support a secret vote on the budget ( or for that matter on anything else)
- If a secret vote is called our MEPs will make public how they have voted
- She will strongly encourage ALDE to oppose a secret vote on the budget
- The Lib Dem Group will campaign for an end to secret votes in the Parliament altogether.
Our last Euro manifesto had a section on ‘Holding MEPs to account’ and it is difficult to do so if the public cannot tell how they voted. We hope that an explicit promise on this will be part of the Lib Dem and ALDE manifestos at the next EU elections.
* Simon McGrath is Chair of Merton Lib Dems, writing in a personal capacity