EU treaty referendum: the Davey defence

I’ll readily confess to remaining uncomfortable with the Lib Dem position on opposing holding a referendum on the EU reform treaty. I do not like to see banner headlines on the BBC News Politics website proclaiming: Lib Dems oppose referendum vote.

It does not sit well with the widely-proclaimed belief of both candidates during the leadership contest that the party needed to become more spiky, anti-establishment, and to put the people – not politicians – in control of their own lives. Nor does it sit well with our previous, principled stance (alone among the three mainstream parties) that the Maastricht treaty should be subjected to a popular vote. On principle, and in campaigning terms, I think the party has made a mistake.

However, credit where it’s due to Ed Davey, our new shadow foreign secretary, who put forward a trenchant and persuasive argument in last night’s House of Commons debate on the Lisbon treaty. Read it for yourself, and judge it for yourself…

–>Edward Davey, Lib Dem shadow secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs]: … we argue for a different referendum—a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Let us face it: a referendum on any EU treaty would become a referendum on the UK’s continued membership. Let us not have that debate by proxy on a treaty referendum. Let us have a debate that people want by asking a straightforward, in or out question. …

Mr. Jenkin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We all know why the Liberal Democrats have adopted this position. It is because they want to be able to say in their manifesto at the next election that they voted for a referendum at some juncture, when in fact they are denying themselves the opportunity of voting for the only realistic referendum on offer. That is a mean, grubby, typical Liberal Democrat trick.

Mr. Davey: If the hon. Gentleman had had the guts to vote with his colleagues for our amendment in the debate on the Loyal Address, we might have been able to get the referendum that the British people actually want. …

The most significant differences between the two treaties lie in the constitutional terms of those treaties. While Lisbon is just another amending treaty making a number of important, if modest, reforms, the constitutional treaty was something quite different. It abolished all past treaties, to replace them with one document: a new constitution. I believe that people have passed over that point and failed to grasp its significance. The Labour Member of the European Parliament, Richard Corbett, has it right when he points out that the DNA of mice and human beings is 90 per cent. the same—it is just that the remaining 10 per cent. is quite important. It is the same with the difference in nature between Lisbon and the constitutional treaty: the 10 per cent. difference moves one from a mouse of an amending treaty through to a fully evolved constitution.

A referendum on the constitutional treaty would therefore effectively have been a referendum on the whole of the EU—Rome, the Single European Act, Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam. It would have been about the complete constitution.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Surely treaties should be judged by their practical and legal effect. That is why two Select Committees of this House, which included Liberal Democrat among its members, concluded that in practical and legal substance, the two treaties are the same. Why does the hon. Gentleman not accept that?

Mr. Davey: The right hon. Gentleman failed to deal with my point that the constitutional treaty would have created a completely new constitution. The reform treaty is an amending treaty. If he cannot understand that, I really despair.

I shall quote the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks [William Hague] who said, when talking about the constitutional treaty, in 2006:

“the fact that it was a constitution, not simply a treaty—would have revolutionised the EU.”

For once, he was right. That is why he ought to recognise that what the Liberal Democrats are saying now, in our proposal for a referendum on EU membership, is far closer to a referendum on the constitutional treaty than the Conservatives’ paltry offering.

We believe that the British people have been denied a say on Europe for too long—on all the treaties and on the cumulative effects of all the changes. Unlike the Conservatives, who denied them a vote on Maastricht, we think that the people should speak. As a party that is strongly committed to the European Union, we want to offer the people the referendum that they really want. I hope that the House will allow a substantive amendment to the Bill to that effect so that we can begin to settle the European question and to draw the poison of anti-European feeling from the British body politic for a generation.

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  • Peter Bancroft 22nd Jan '08 - 2:00pm

    As has been pointed out, the Reform Treaty is (unfortunately) not “exactly the same” as the Constitutional treaty at all.

    Some of the reforms proposed as part of the constitutional treaty were indeed repeated in the Reform Treaty, but I wanted a referendum on the Constitutional treaty because it was Constitutional. And the Reform treaty is (unfortunately) not.

    We didn’t campaign for a referendum on the Amsterdam treaty, nor the Treaty of Nice, and this is probably the least radical of them all. Unless we get caught up in the populist approach of demanding a treaty on all things influenced by foreigners, then it’s impossible to support this referendum.

    I thought that Davey’s response was one of the more sensible perspectives on this that I’ve seen – first thing I’ve seen him get coverage for as Shadow Foreign, so I hope he keeps it up.

  • Someone should have the honesty to say that the real mistakes here were –
    1. For Giscard d’Estaing et al to attempt to create a “constitution” for the EU. If anything could be used to allege that “they” were trying to work towards a “country called Europe” then this was it. It never was anything like a constitution. Everyone who values the EU has been trying to dig themselves out of this hole ever since.

    2. For the Lib Dems to advocate a referendum in the first place. We are a representative democracy. We elect MPs to go deeply into these things and to make decisions. Does anyone seriously think that any more than a fraction of one per cent of the population will have any real idea of what they are being asked to vote for or against? Sorry Flo’ -it is not like being consulted about local house building. Even on that, no-one expects to have a binding referendum – just plenty of information and consultation before decisions are made.

    Lib Dem MPs now face a decision like they faced when the Maastricht Treaty was under threat. They could have brought a Tory government down then but bravely decided that the future of Europe was more important.

    Let the anti-Europeans bleat about our (mistaken) previous offer of a referendum. Vote against it now, Nick. Not abstain – vote against!

  • matts severn 22nd Jan '08 - 3:14pm

    It makes no sense for us not to support a referendum. Surely our vision of liberalism is to give people a say. Clegg is all about empowering people, yet when the biggest issue for a number of years comes up, suddenly the public cant be trusted. Shameful.

  • Terry Gilbert 22nd Jan '08 - 3:16pm

    The weakness in the In or Out referendum idea is that that is not the same as a constitutional referendum, either. You CAN vote against a constitution – or a treaty – without leaving the organisation, as two countries have recently demonstrated, and Denmark did previously over another Treaty.
    My own view is that we need a settlement in Europe which goes much farther than the Constitution (or the Treaty) in ensuring that politicians are held accountable to the electorate.
    A popular constitution, no less….

  • We should have said ‘Yes, we will vote for a referendum on the Treaty, but even better, let’s have a referendum on staying in the European Union’.

    That would have put the Tories in a difficult position.

  • David Morton 22nd Jan '08 - 4:07pm

    I can’t see anything in this new treaty which requires a refferendum. From a constitutional point of view i’d have though ID cards and 42 day detention were bigger changes to the way we are governed. No one asks for refferendums on these issues. Parties just say yes or no to them and slug the issue out in our parliamentry democracy. We are not Switzerland.

    I have my own views on the partys EU In or Out proposal but it is at least (a) clear (b) I have no doubt In or Out is an important enough issue for a refferendum.

    basically the calls for a referendum on the treaty seem to be about giving a Euro Sceptic veneer to the party for Door Step consumption. I suspect there is just no point in pretending to be something we are not.

  • Peter Bancroft 22nd Jan '08 - 4:45pm

    Andy @ 14 “You may think promising a referendum was unwise, but we did promise, all three parties did and yet there will not be a referendum.”

    That’s simply factually inaccurate – at no stage did we promise a referendum on the Reform Treaty, and rightly not. We’ve promised referendums on major treaties changing the nature of the EU and we’ve not promised treaties which merely amend existing systems. We’re continuing the approach that we’ve consistently had since the UK joined the EU (though we could debate about whether we should have had a referendum on the Single Act, perhaps).

    This isn’t weasel-words or anything else – there was no such promise made, and it looks ridiculous just to claim there was.

  • passing tory 22nd Jan '08 - 4:50pm

    I find all this discussion on whether or not the treaty is a constitution or not completely ridiculous. Whether or not the front page calls itself a constitution or an amending treaty, there seems little debate that what is inside details the procedures and rules by which the EU should be run. By my reckoning, it is therefore a constitution (much as an apple remains an apple, even if you call it a banana).

    Whether we should have a referendum is another question on which I am not going to bore you all with my views again, but stop pretending that we are not talking about a de facto constitution here.

  • Good on you Paul (15). One of our delusions is that by putting something forward we think we can get it. There is not the slightest possibility of our getting a referendum on EU membership. Putting this forward is just a useful way of baiting the Tories by pointing up the real nature of their “euro-scepticism”.

    Partly by having allowed the antis to play all the best tunes – often the only tunes – and partly because there will be such a lack of understanding of the issues by otherwise intelligent and well-meaning people, we have reached a position whereby a referendum on the treaty in the UK would wreck something profoundly in the best interests of our country. Swallow your scruples MPs and vote accordingly.

  • The evidence of France suggests that far from being informed, people will answer the question they think should have been asked… in France’s case, “Should Turkey join the EU immediately?”.

    The reform treaty – which it’s simply deceitful to rhetorically dress up as a constitution – changes nothing about the state-Union relationship. I wish it did. The President that the extreme right are so afraid of is an existing position, simply occupied by a nameable, identifiable, acccountable person instead of a rotating state. The external relations supremo can do nothing except when the 27 are in concert. Britain and France retain their laughable, anachronistic security council seats.

    Yes, the treaty and the constitution contain much of the same. But we’re 95% the same DNA as a banana – that five percent makes a huge difference. Thanks to the short sighted, xenophobic reactionaries who are still stuck in 1946, we are left in the reform treaty with a Union that, whilst improved, remains unable to function efficiently or decisively.

    Yes, we should pass this treaty, no it is far too complex to go to referendum, yes we should continue the reform as soon as it’s in place.

  • Peter Bancroft 22nd Jan '08 - 5:26pm

    passing Tory @ 17
    If you think the Reform treaty is a Cosntitution that sets out procedures, then presumably all the previous treaties signed by the EU are also all Constitutions?

  • passing tory 22nd Jan '08 - 5:33pm

    Paul W,

    With respect, Paul, you completely miss the point. If you have a document that fundamentally modifies the way in which an organisation works then you have changed that organisation’s constitution. It doesn’t matter whether it is two sides of A4 describing how your local poetry club selects its committee, or thousands of pages; the rules by which an organisation is run is, by definition, its constitution and this is what the document describes.

    As for the comparison with the US; I assume you mean that the US constitution (at 4500 words – OK, 7500 if you include all the amendments) is the nail file when compared to the rather more detailed EU Treaty under discussion (I don’t know the precise length, but I do know it took me orders of magnitude longer to read than the US Constitution), in which case your argument is what, exactly?

  • passing tory 22nd Jan '08 - 5:42pm


    In simple terms yes (although not all were for the EU of course). I would add that, as far as I am concerned, the situation is complicated by the fact that at the stage there was no effective entity as the EU it was easy to claim that this was a treaty governing the relationship between a group of countries. Now, AIUI, one of the key differences between the so-called constitution and the current treaty is in the legal status of the EU (does it have one). However, to claim that the EU does not exist as an entity of its own is sheer sophistry – in real terms it does exist and exerts a political pressure of its own.

  • Oh dear, some of these comments do seem to be saying that “you cannot trust the public with serious questions”.

    Not very liberal?

    People do seem to want a say – why not give them one ????

    (And, no, I’m not a passing Tory troll!)

  • Devil’s Kitchen wrote:
    “All that is required is a majority vote in the Council of Ministers:”

    The page you linked to seems to say it requires a unanimous vote. Am I missing something?

    Chris Phillips

  • David Morton 22nd Jan '08 - 7:16pm

    23. All existing EU treaties are brought into UK law via Act’s of Parliament. What parliament ratifies it can repeal. While this relationship remains I don’t accept your argument.

  • Federal Britain in a Federal Europe….as we used to say back in Liberal Party days.

    Many of us still hold true to this aim, you know.

  • Frankly it doesn’t matter whether this is a constituion or an amending treaty. We will be judged on what people think.

    People want a referendum on Europe and we have just voted against one. Like it or not we will be portrayed as bunch of europhiles out of touch with the British public.

    Ed’s arguement are as usual well thought out and probably correct but the effect will go down like a lead balloon with most members of the public

  • Devil’s Kitchen

    Thanks for the clarification.

    On the question of a referendum, I can see both sides of the argument, but I think Ed Davey’s speech would have made better sense if he had left out the statement that “a referendum on any EU treaty would become a referendum on the UK’s continued membership”.

    Because, realistically, there is not going to be a referendum on UK membership of the EU and, given that, it makes little sense to say that we want a referendum on the UK’s EU membership but that we will vote against a referendum that would in effect address that issue.

    I heard Nick Clegg on TV today arguing the same point made in Davey’s speech – “constitutional treaty” versus “amending treaty” – and I thought it came across as a legalistic quibble.

    And I think what he said about looking at the “Parliamentary arithmetic” before we decide whether to vote against or abstain (despite having earlier said – unintentionally? – we would vote against) was terrible. Or at least, if we’re really going to be so cynical, the last think we should do is spell out that fact in public.

    Chris Phillips

  • Neil Bradbury 23rd Jan '08 - 1:54pm

    I am proud of our position on this one. I have always been of the view that referenda are very dangerous vehicles. All the people I know who advocate a referendum are doing so because they dislike the EU full stop. When asked why they do not support a referndum on the EU as a whole they either say they would like that or grudgingly admit that they would lose it. In addition none of them have actualy read it and most don’t know what the major changes are.

    The public would vote on the treaty secure in the knoweldge that we would be able to stay in the EU but that we could mess up the treaty. Most people objections to the EU are not the role of the body in terms of foreign affairs but issues like CAP and the Fisheries Policy. We should thank Ming for developing this policy and we shouldn’t take any lessons from Tories on democracy. Just becasue we have the word democrats in our name does not mean we should support a vote on everything under the sun.

  • You chose the wrong leader - again.. 23rd Jan '08 - 9:05pm

    Oh, it must be sh*t being a Lib Dem.

    Change leader every whip stitch, and then, once they are installed you find that there is a little problem..

    This one drinks too much..

    This one is too old…

    This one won’t do as he’s told…

    It must be like in the days of BL where patriotic types would insist on buying British Leyland cars, and the Morris Marina / Austin Princess / Triumph Dolomite would be fine as you drove it out of the showroom, and just about until you got it to your home, and then you noticed a few rattles that weren’t there before, and then the problems started…

  • Thanks to the trolls this is all getting unwarrantably rancorous. Europe presents problems for all parties (apart from UKIP one would suppose – and look how united they are!): Labour have never clearly decided what their view on Europe is; the Tories are split between those who have a visceral dislike of anyone who doesn’t have English as their mother tongue and the economic realists who recognise a good thing when they see it; and the LibDems who believe wholeheartedly, for the most part, in the European ideal but who are afraid that to proclaim that support will lose votes, thanks to the misinformation peddled to the electorate by the Murdoch press.

    I believe that the Treaty is the same as the Constitution and that it is sophistry to argue otherwise. Our mistake was to offer a referendum on the Constitution. Surely as Liberal Democrats we had enough knowledge of what is involved in writing constitutions to know that it is not a process that can conceivably be ratified by a referendum. Writing a constitution involves endless discussion by people who understand the intricacies of such a process – inevitably a tiny subset of the population. A constitution is not susceptible to a Yes/No question: whether you want to belong to the organisation for which the constitution has been written is susceptible to such a question, and that is why Ming was right to reframe the debate in those terms, though our argument would have carried more weight if we had acknowledged our mistake in the 2005 manifesto.

  • Having come back to this thread after a gap I see some accusations that to suggest that the electorate may not look deeply enough into the real issues before voting in a “treaty” referendum is illiberal. Perhaps I am the guilty party because of 6 and 20 above where I said
    “Does anyone seriously think that any more than a fraction of one per cent of the population will have any real idea of what they are being asked to vote for or against?” and –
    “Partly by having allowed the antis to play all the best tunes – often the only tunes – and partly because there will be such a lack of understanding of the issues by otherwise intelligent and well-meaning people, we have reached a position whereby a referendum on the treaty in the UK would wreck something profoundly in the best interests of our country.”

    This is in the context of my belief that we are a representative democracy, not a direct democracy with popular votes on specific issues. To be precise I do think referenda have their (very rare)place – mainly to decide big “in or out” issues such as joining or leaving the EU or Scotland leaving the UK etc.

    Do those who use words like “illiberal” really think it demeaning to suggest that lengthy,complex, detailed and often specialist legislation is better handled and voted on by those we have elected for that purpose?

    This treaty is different from the “constitution” but we should not have proposed a referendum even on the “constitution.” To allow ourselves and our country to be hoist on that petard now makes no sense whatsoever.

    Let’s have a bill which sets out for future reference all those categories of issue which will be subject to a referendum – in some cases with a weighted majority. Then rule out referenda being offered in any other circumstances.

  • Just stumbled across this. Flabbergasted by the self deluding rationalisation displayed. You make much out of insisting we have a referendum on in/out of EU but not on treaty/constitution. This is a complete reversal from initial stance when Menzies Campbell & rest of L-D spokesmen insisted we must not have said referendum on “treaty” as it would become surrogate referendum on leaving EU. Now that it’s clear majority are keen to remain in EU but not cede any more power,stance completely changed as you’ve realised electorate are quite intelligent enough to seperate the issues and vote accordingly.The only way you can force new “treaty” on unwilling electorate is not allow them to have any say. No-one of stature is seriously advocating leaving EU, this is completely spurious. Far from being a principled position as someone above would have us believe, I find this redolent of the worst manipulative and disingenuous instincts of the political class. Liberal? Democrat? My eye.

  • passing tory 24th Jan '08 - 4:59pm

    Paul W,

    Stop being ridiculous. You know as well as I do that the amending treaty defines “The system of fundamental laws and principles that prescribes the nature, functions, and limits of a government or another institution.”, in this case the EU. You can claim that the EU is not officially an institution, but this is a legal dodge which doesn’t fool many people.

    Indeed, as you claim the treaty doesn’t change the way in which the EU will work (bearing in mind it is an amending treaty, so it only needs to define the deltas, not the whole structure), then why do you think is it needed?

  • Another Denis 24th Jan '08 - 6:14pm

    Technically it’s not the Lisbon Treaty which would have virtually the same legal effects as the Constitution, it’s the combination of the Lisbon Treaty and the existing Treaties that it would amend.

    Once that had been done, it would be open to the Court of Justice to declare that the end result should be regarded as the EU’s Constitution – a not unreasonable step, as the legal contents would be so similar to the previous Constitution, and in any case they have already described the Treaties as “the constitutional charter of a Community based on the rule of law.”, back in 1991 – but to make it more comprehensible to citizens it should be tidied-up or “codified”.

    During that process of codification, the word “Constitution” which was noisily removed this year would be quietly re-instated, and as (according to the Court) that would have no material effect on its legal substance, it is doubtful whether it would be seen as a treaty change requiring ratification by the member states. A few minor bits and pieces, such as the flag and the anthem, could also be slipped back in at that time.

    So, hey presto, the EU would have erected its Giscardian Constitution, by sleight of hand.

    Incidentally, the Court of Justice has long claimed that the principle of primacy of EU law over national law extends to the relationship between EU law and national constitutional law, so that EU Constitution would be deemed superior to the British constitution.

    And all that, without any attempt to obtain the consent of the British people, or the consent of any of the other peoples of Europe, with the assistance of the so-called “Liberal Democrats”.

    You should be ashamed of yourselves.

  • Mike Hanlon 24th Jan '08 - 6:33pm

    An ‘In / Out’ referendum pledge is fine in principle. But the problem caused by going back on our original referendum pledge is one of credibility.

    People say to me how they’re supposed to believe we’ll honour this new referedum pledge, however appealing or well justified it may be. It’s not good.

    I’m at a loss to understand why Nick Clegg doesn’t just do the sensible thing and say the party will stand by the referendum we promised in our last manifesto.

    That’s clearly the option that ticks all the boxes; simplicity, honesty, integrity, consistency, and democracy.

  • Richard Gadsden 24th Jan '08 - 10:40pm

    The European Union has had a constitution since the Treaty of Rome. It’s ludicrous to suggest that this is some new thing.

    The problem with Giscard’s constitution was that it didn’t change anything; it just rewrote the existing one from treatyese to constitutionese. There were a couple of minor amendments, but that’s what they were – minor. The Treaty of Lisbon is essentially those minor amendments rewritten back into treatyese instead of constitutionese.

    Eurosceptics keep getting offended by things that were in the Treaty of Rome – and then pretending that they are some new innovation.

    The EU is a constituted structure that is superior to the nation-state. Always has been. It already is a federation – has been since the Treaty of Rome. The so-called federal superstate is something I’ve lived in my entire life – and I’m in my mid-thirties.

    If you don’t like it, propose changing it, or propose leaving it, but so-far-and-no-further does require you to actually have a clue how far so far is. And you don’t.

  • passing tory 25th Jan '08 - 11:10am


    It sounds as though we more or less agree with the best sort of EU, but I strongly disagree with you about the best way of achieving this. The current momentum in the EU is very much in the opposite direction – towards greater central decision making – and ratifying the treaty is going to establish this process rather than increase the possibility of changing it. If we want a different EU, the time to debate is while there is some leverage, and that means now.

  • Another Denis 25th Jan '08 - 6:39pm

    “A referendum on the constitution” would have been a referendum on whether to move from the present legal position, that laid down in the present treaties, to a new legal position, that laid down in the Constitutional Treaty.

    “A referendum on the Lisbon Treaty” would also be a referendum on whether to move from the present legal position, that laid down in the present treaties, to a new legal position, that laid down in the Constitutional Treaty.

    Bar a few minor differences, which could easily be adjusted afterwards, the legal changes are the same.

    Previously the Liberal Democrats said that those legal changes were big enough to merit a referendum, and promised support for a referendum in their 2005 election manifesto – which, NB, was the manifesto on which Nick Clegg was elected, like all the other Liberal Democrat MPs.

    Now having been elected on that manifesto Nick Clegg, and most of the other Liberal Democrat MPs, claim that almost exactly the same legal changes do not merit a referendum.

  • Another Denis 26th Jan '08 - 12:53pm

    Now you really are demeaning yourself.

    The French had “a referendum on the constitution”.

    Their “no” meant that the Constitutional Treaty couldn’t come into force, but it didn’t affect the treaties which were already in force – the present treaties, as amended up to and including the amendments agreed at Nice.

    The EU has carried on under those treaties, and France has continued to be a member state of the EU, because their referendum was only on the new treaty, NOT on the existing treaties, and therefore not on EU membership.

    If those drafting the 2005 Liberal Democrat manifesto had intended to pledge support for an “in or out” referendum, then no doubt they would have had sufficient command of English to say so.

  • Paul Walter

    There’s a huge difference between a referendum in which a “No” vote would result in us leaving the EU, and a vote on whether to ratify a (new) constitution for the EU, which is what was in the manifesto.

    Obviously we are proposing something very different from what we proposed in 2005. I think it’s clearly just a manoeuvre to avoid the issue of whether there should be a referendum on the Treaty.

    Chris Phillips

  • Another Denis 26th Jan '08 - 4:14pm

    Which is why France, having rejected the EU Constitution in a referendum, is no longer in the EU.

    Thanks for explaining that.

  • Another Denis 26th Jan '08 - 4:18pm

    I should add that my 84 was in reply to the unprincipled nonsense in 82, not the good sense in 83.

  • Paul Walter wrote:
    “So, in order to fulfil our promise to have a referendum on the EU constitution we have to have a referendum on all the treaties since Rome – which is effectively a “in or out” vote – it is one and the same.”

    No. We did not propose an “in or out” vote in 2005, and there is absolutely no reason why we “have to have” one now.

    The vote we promised in 2005 was on whether to adopt the proposed constitution, or to leave things are they were.

    If the practical effect of the Lisbon Treaty is similar to that of the proposed constitution, as most commentators seem to think, then the equivalent referendum would be on whether we should ratify that treaty, or leave things as they are.

    And you know as well as everyone else that there simply is not going to be an “in or out” referendum. It is not on offer. The choice we have to make is whether we support a referendum on whether to ratify the treaty. Our current policy is just a diversionary tactic.

    Chris Phillips

  • Paul Walter

    If your argument is that the practical effects of ratifying the treaty are _not_ comparable with those of adopting the constitution, then that’s another matter.

    But it seems to me that that isn’t the argument that’s being made. I’ve seen very little discussion on this thread about the _practical_ differences between the two.

    And if that’s the argument, then the issue of an “in or out” referendum is irrelevant. Even if, for reasons I don’t understand, some people in the party want another “in or out” referendum 30 years on – even though no one else apart from those on the fringes is calling for one – then it’s an entirely separate issue.

    Chris Phillips

  • I am warming to my namesake – 81, 84, 85 et al – even though I suspect he is a Eurosceptic and I (the ORIGINAL Denis) am a Europhile. Those who argue that a referendum on the Giscard “constitution” would have been in effect an “in or out” decision are up a gum tree, I’m afraid, as Another Denis has eloquently pointed out by citing the French example.

    If you have the stomach please go back all the way to my 6 above.

    1. It never was a constitution asnd should not have been so designated.

    2. The Lib Dems made a mistake in offering a referendum in our representative democracy. Why Oh why can political parties hardly ever say – “We’ve thought about it and we’ve changed our mind!”

  • Dennis the Menace... 26th Jan '08 - 6:04pm

    Oh, this guy Clegg has got you spooked, now hasn’t he ?

    You wait till he starts talking about the value of private health insurance…

  • Dennis the Menace... 26th Jan '08 - 6:20pm

    On a lighter note, what does the phrase ‘economically and socially liberal’ mean in terms of the current £100 billion spend on welfare/benefits, and the move to Wisconsin style workfare which, say, Frank Field is in favour of for Labour and which the Tories appear to be casting a jealous glance at ??

    And what will Lib Dems say when Nick Clegg tries to break it to them that he will not turn down any nuclear plants / heathrow extension which Labour approve during their term of office ??

  • James Graham 26th Jan '08 - 6:34pm

    I have to say, this is the world’s dullest thread but since you bozos insist on lengthening it and I’m still getting sent your postings every time you make them, I thought I’d jump in and try to bash some sense into you all.

    Arguing over whether the Lib Dems did or did not break a manifesto commitment is irrelevant on at least two grounds. The first, narrow, point is that the Constitutional Treaty does not exist any more. We can argue about whether supporting an in/out referendum or the Reform Treaty referendum is closest to honouring that until we’re blue in the face (several of you appear to be already) but the fact is that Treaty is not what is being debated.

    Secondly, opposition parties are not bound by manifesto commitments. This fact ought to be obvious: the Lib Dems do not have the same manifesto as the one used in 1931 for instance. The Lib Dems have already ditched lots of manifesto commitments such as support for the 50p income tax rate for example. The Conservatives completely disowned theirs. So banging on about “you promised” is not only babyish but irrelevant.

    The only pertinent issue is not whether the Lib Dems are honour bound to support a referendum but whether they should. You all seem obsessed with the former issue and utterly disinterested in the latter.

    Give it up and get over yourselves.

  • Another Denis 26th Jan '08 - 8:18pm

    So who said this, then?

    “If any Government propose to agree to a major shift in control or any transfer of significant powers from member states to European institutions, or to agree to any alteration in the existing balance between member states and those institutions, there should be a referendum of the British people.”

    Menzies Campbell, 2003, explaining the criteria the Liberal Democrats apply when deciding whether a referendum is justified.

    And when the legal changes which would have been introduced by the Constitutional Treaty were examined, they were deemed to meet those criteria; but now that virtually the same changes would be brought about by the Lisbon Treaty, albeit by an alternative mechanism, they are deemed not to meet those criteria.

    I’m afraid it just doesn’t wash.

  • Geoffrey Payne wrote:
    “Logically then that is what people should vote on; something that they understand.”

    The only snag with that argument is that we end up advocating a referendum on whether we should stay in the EU, which no one outside the political fringes is calling for.

    Meanwhile, returning to the real world, we’re going to vote against a referendum on a treaty which – in practical terms – will apparently have much the same effect as one which our manifesto of 2005 said “must be subject to a referendum of the British people”.

    Certainly there’s nothing forcing us to be consistent with our manifesto commitment of only a couple of years ago. But on the other hand, aren’t we supposed to be in a new era of openness and honesty now, not in yet another one of sophistry and cynicism?

    Chris Phillips

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