Ming says EU reform treaty referendum “not necessary”

In a pre-conference interview in today’s Financial Times, Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell has dismissed calls for the party to back a referendum on the EU reform treaty – but has kept open the possibility of a re-run of 1975’s ‘in or out’ poll:

… Sir Menzies, a “pro-European”, told the Financial Times the new EU reform treaty was “sufficiently different” from the original constitution to avoid the need for a plebiscite. He said the only case for a public vote would be on a much broader “in or out” question about Britain’s membership of the EU, to prompt a serious national debate on Europe.

However, such a question is unlikely to be put by any government in the near future. “My judgment is a referendum is not necessary on this document,” he said in an interview ahead of next week’s Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton. “But if we were to have a referendum, then it is worth considering a more fundamental referendum, in a sense of being in or out.”

A formal decision on the party’s position will be taken after Mr Brown signs a final treaty text at an EU summit in Lisbon next month, but few believe it will differ greatly from the draft agreed in Brussels in June.

Three Lib Dem MPs – John Hemming, Mike Hancock and David Heath – have publicly called for the party to repeat its Maastricht pledge, and to let the public decide. A recent poll of Lib Dem Voice readers found a majority (54%-37%) in favour of the party supporting the campaign for a referendum.

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  • Pity, Lib Dems used to be more democratic when the Maastricht treaty was accepted. But I have understood, that Liberal Democrats are planning to remove the “Democrat” part from their name, anyway.

  • Ming is such a joke. Our MPs will get hammered for this piece of elitist arrogance.

    New leader please.

  • Screw you Jeremy. I’m a Liberal Democrat.

    Editor’s comment: please note.

  • Neil Bradbury 12th Sep '07 - 12:37pm

    Excellent decision Ming – how representative of public opinion (on the question actually asked) are referenda anyway? Most of my friends who are pro-referendum have never read the constitution and just hate foreigners because thats what the Mail tells them to do. Mings non populist approach is warming on me we want more prinicpled opinions not just people thinking because we are democrats we should have a vote on everything the right wing press want to vote on!

  • Geoffrey Payne 12th Sep '07 - 1:01pm

    I did not notice there was a poll on LDV, and in any case I am undecided. Undecided that it is until I have heard the debate at Lib Dem conference. I suspect that applies to a lot of people in the party.
    Like most Lib Dems I am pro-European and I can usually trust the instincts of the party leadership.
    I think a debate is very much needed at the moment.
    More fundamentally we need to sort out as a party in a general sense when we support referenda and when not.

  • Bit strange to assume, Jeremy, that just because one doesn’t give a full name it means one can’t be a Liberal Democrat.

    And as for giving a website link… well, I don’t have a website! Does that make me a Tory?

  • Not being as active in the party as I used to be I don’t know whether Liberal Democrats are as fascinated with Constitutions as was the case with Liberals. It was almost de rigeur in the Liberal Party to be able to write a constitution at the drop of a hat, and there might then be a debate about amendments which would quicken the hearts of the cognoscenti at an EGM. Is it being elitist or anti-democratic to suggest that perhaps the general public would find such discussions irrelevant and tedious, and that debate on the European ‘Treaty’ would simply resolve into the question of ‘Europe: In or Out?’ I think that we have been populist in the past over calling for a referendum on issues which are essentially far too complex to be capable of a sensible resolution into a yes/no answer. If you disagree, ask yourself: am I really going to plough my way through the Treaty making lists of things I like and dislike about it, and at the end of that process take a balanced view of which way to vote? I know that I’m not going to.

  • And yet no less arbitrary for that, Stephen. I am pro-referendums in principle, but in practice find myself tortured in the voting booth – as I suspect does Laurence? – by the fact that I haven’t had time to read 17 white papers, the last three years’ worth of academic political journals etc etc. And the question becomes more acute when the voting decision involves such (relatively) unfamiliar implications as does any kind of vote on “Europe”. However much one trawls for info, I suspect plain unfamiliarity with what the complex document MEANS (let us say) is actually the problem Laurence is talking about.

    Stop me if I’m rambling.

  • Hywel Morgan 12th Sep '07 - 11:37pm

    Gavin – as the Face of Boe said, “You Are Not Alone” 🙂

  • Geoffrey Payne 14th Sep '07 - 7:57am

    In response to Alex, the reality is that Ming had to say something. How is he supposed to respond when he is asked by the media where the Lib Dems stand on this issue? “I will give you my answer when we have discussed it at conference”?
    Although in principle I agree he should not unilaterally decide policy, on this issue I think he had no choice but to do so.
    However we do need a debate on this issue, I am not clear in my own mind how to sell our current policy position and I hope things will become clearer at conference.

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