William Wallace writes…Liberal Democrats will fight for votes at 16 and balanced EU referendum rules

The EU Referendum, Sir William Cash declared during the passage of the Bill providing for it through the Commons, is of fundamental importance to the future of this country over the next generation and more.That is why Liberal Democrats have been arguing, regardless of the broader issue of lowering the voting age, that on this occasion 16- and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote. We agree with Eurosceptics like Bill Cash that this is a vital, long-term decision; so those that have the longest stake in the future of this country should not be denied a say.

The Bill has now passed through the Commons, and has its second reading in the Lords today. Liberal Democrats will be putting down amendments on a number of issues in addition to votes at sixteen. We support extending the franchise for the referendum to UK citizens who have been living and working elsewhere within the EU for more than 15 years, which is the current cut-off for non-resident voters. We will also be putting down an amendment to allow EU citizens who have become long-term residents within the UK to vote in the referendum; they already have the right to vote in local and European elections here, so in many cases are already on the register.

UKIP and Migration Watch see the 2 million-plus British residents who are citizens of other EU states as a threat.  We see the 300,000 French, 200,000 Germans, 50,000 Dutch, 750,000 Poles and others estimated to be living and working here as assets to our economy and society. The Daily Mail caricature of EU workers in the UK as under-cutting UK jobs by the highly-paid Italians, Germans and French who work in the City of London, the skilled Poles in the building industry, the Spanish and Portuguese nurses who have filled gaps in the NHS workforce.

Around the Bill, preliminary skirmishes in the referendum campaign are taking place. Eurosceptics in the Commons have attacked the BBC for its alleged ‘bias’. They would evidently prefer a Fox News approach to foreign countries, and regret that the existence of the BBC keeps Sky News honest. The argument about ‘purdah’ – the campaign period during which ministers and civil servants will not be allowed to make ‘political’ interventions – cuts across the necessity of the government continuing to work with other EU states, to take part in meetings in Brussels and elsewhere, and continue to put forward British interests to others.

Much of this is shadow-boxing. Cameron is going through a process of negotiation, but there is no way that whatever package he gains will satisfy the anti-Europeans. They see the EU as a monster, sucking British sovereignty across the Channel. They passionately believe that Britain would regain its ‘freedom’ if it were to leave, not recognising that regulations flow from Washington as well as from Brussels and that openness to foreign investment and ownership has long since compromised British sovereignty beyond recall.  Their aim in the EU Referendum Bill is to reshape the rules to favour their side. Ours, of course, is to ensure that the rules remain well-balanced, and that all those with a strong stake in the outcome have their say.

* Lord Wallace of Saltaire is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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11 Comments

  • We agree with Eurosceptics like Bill Cash that this is a vital, long-term decision; so those that have the longest stake in the future of this country should not be denied a say.

    Surely by that argument, 14-year-olds should not be denied a say? After all, they have an even longer stake than sixteen-year-olds.

    By what argument are you saying the vote should be extended the sixteen-year-olds for this referendum, but not to fourteen-year-olds?

  • The Lib Dems need to make the balanced argument in favour of TTIP to encourage centrist voters who are currently likely to fall for hard left / kipper rhetoric about “corporatism”. I see so many people write stuff like “I would vote to stay in, if it wasn’t for TTIP”.

    Additionally the arguments must be made for fiscal responsibility. Much of the left anti EU position is related to Greece and rants against “Goldman Sachs”.

  • Alex Macfie 13th Oct '15 - 4:47pm

    Except that there IS a lot of corporatism and policy laundering in TTIP. I think we need to stop putting blinkers on whenever something comes along that promises “free trade” and actuallyh look at WHAT THE AGREEMENT SAYS and decide whether to support it, or not, on its merits. Instead I see a lot of uncritical support for TTIP and condescendingly sweeping aside any criticism. I sometimes feel that if TTIP proposed legalising people trafficking, the establishment would still support it as it would be “free trade”.

  • But this doesn’t mean that all ages are equally good, and it is quite proper to have a debate over whether 16 or 18 is right in this case, and judge that narrower issue on its merits

    Indeed. But it seems like the only argument advanced for lowering the age to sixteen, applies equally well to fourteen (and indeed twelve, nine, six…)

    In the case of a constitutional change, the onus is on the proposer of the change to show that the status quo is unsustainable (ie, the presumption should always be in favour of sticking with what is known to work).

    In this case, the fact that the argument for change would, if applied logically, lead to an absurd conclusion (votes for toddlers!) shows that it is not a sufficient argument, on its own, to support a constitutional change.

    Either additional arguments need to be advanced to support the change, or the argument given needs to be refined to show why in fact it would not lead to that absurd conclusion, or the change must not be adopted.

  • peter tyzack 14th Oct '15 - 9:02am

    aside from the debate over voting rights(and isn’t it a given that the wider the voter base, the more democratic the result will be?) – we really need a facts checker running throughout the campaign. Other referenda have been lost by the perpetration of downright lies and scare stories, and at present the average wo/man in the street still believes in ‘faceless bureaucrats handing down edicts from Brussels without us having any say’, and that ‘if we left the EU we would have enough money to save the NHS’.

  • “We agree with Eurosceptics like Bill Cash that this is a vital, long-term decision; so those that have the longest stake in the future of this country should not be denied a say.”

    So also by the same logic being used to extend votes to 16/14/12 etc. the upcoming EU referendum cannot be the final word on the UK’s membership, as it will need to be rerun every 25~40 years – remember no one currently under the age of 58 has had a vote on our membership of the EU. In fact I don’t see anything inherently wrong about this, because it is normal to periodically review your memberships, insurances, bank accounts, utilities etc. and make changes that reflect your current lifestyle. Once you have accepted the principle of regular reviews there is no need to lower the voting age, on the grounds given.

  • Thomas Hinton 14th Oct '15 - 2:21pm

    Andrew Green of Migrationwatch has not read the article closely enough:
    “UKIP and Migration Watch see the 2 million-plus British residents who are citizens of other EU states as a threat.”

    Lord Wallace is not talking about “British residents in EU states”, but rather non-UK EU citizens who are British residents. I point this out because I think the misreading might be telling – you can be a British *resident*, and assimilated in that way, without being a national; but that doesn’t fit into the way the anti-immigration lobby think about identity.

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