NEW POLL: were the Lib Dems right to stage Commons Euro referendum walk out?

In the two hours since LDV posted Newsflash: Lib Dems walk out of House of Commons – in protest at the Deputy Speaker’s refusal to allow a vote on the party’s proposal there should be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty – the debate has raged in the comments thread: did our MPs do us proud by showing their anger at the denial of such an important issue being debated and voted on; or was it juvenile gesture politics designed to distract from the opposition of the likes of David Heath to the party line?

Well, here’s your chance to make your feelings clear – an LDV poll asking: “Were Lib Dem MPs right to walk out of the House of Commons in protest at the refusal to debate the party proposal for an ‘EU – in or out’ referendum?” Simple question, simple answer: yes or no. You can vote using the poll displayed in the right-hand column.

My view? Well, of course this was grandstanding politics: I’d be amazed (and disappointed) if the tactics weren’t discussed in advance. So what? Does any Lib Dem – do any of our critics – imagine that the party’s views would have been reported if our MPs had just sat there in stony-faced silence? Would that have somehow sent a dignified message? Or would it simply have been ignored by everyone?

It is clearly absurd that the Lib Dems should not be free to have debated in Parliament whether there should be a referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the EU. For what it’s worth, I think the party has been mistaken to oppose a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, especially given we championed a referendum on Maastricht in the teeth of Tory opposition in 1993.

But I find Tory attacks on the Lib Dem stance hard to take seriously… If it were the Tory party putting forward the proposal for an ‘in or out’ EU referendum, their members would be ecstatic. And if Parliament’s arcane procedures barred them from having such a proposal discussed, the right-wing blogosphere would have exploded by now in self-righteous indignation.

So, yes there should be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. But we all know that – whatever answer is given by the public, whether yes or no – such a vote will not settle the larger argument: do the British people want to be EU members any more, and, if so, what kind of EU do they support? The only means by which that debate can be fully had is through a referendum campaign in which proper attention can be focused on the competing claims and counter-claims.

The Lisbon Treaty is just the latest in a succession of EU treaties which affect the everyday lives of the British people. Far better that they are all debated than that we fixate on one just one aspect. That this argument cannot be made in Parliament is just one of the reasons why our Parliamentary system no longer enjoys the confidence of the public.

We would not be discussing this today unless the Lib Dems had today stuck up for the rights of the British people to be able to debate such a crucial issue. I want the party to be spiky, edgy, radical. So do most members, I reckon. Well, that’s what we’re getting. Good.

Result of last poll:

We asked Lib Dem Voice readers: “Is the Archbishop of Canterbury right to say that adoption of Sharia law is unavoidable?” Here’s what you said:

• Yes – 63 (16%)
• No – 322 (84%)
Total Votes: 385. Polling from 8th-26th Feb, 2008.

Pretty clear-cut, really.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Voice polls.


  • What a joke! What a party? Keep it up losers!!

  • Hywel Morgan 26th Feb '08 - 8:54pm

    Except we haven’t walked out – there’s still been at least one MP there when I’ve flicked over to BBC Parliament.

    I’m not watching as Bill Cash is on his feet and I’ve not got a problem sleeping… 🙂

  • More of this please…

    Fantastic news… It’s makes me proud to be a Lib Dem

    Again…we want more of this type of campaigning…well done all involved.

  • Very good indeed. But if we do it only this once it will be futile. The speaker rules against us so often it is about time the parl’y party stood up for itself. I know many LD council groups who wouldn’t have been so supine for so long.

  • Another Denis 27th Feb '08 - 2:10am

    In fairness to the Speaker, the Liberal Democrat amendment was irrelevant to the Motion. That related only to specific changes included in the Lisbon Treaty, not to the totality of all the EU Treaties from the 1957 Treaty of Rome up to and including the entire Lisbon Treaty. They’ll have to try harder than this, if they hope to get away with wriggling out their manifesto pledge

    The Motion proposed by the Prime Minister:

    “That this House approves the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the effectiveness of the EU institutions and EU decision-making.”

    The amendment which the Liberal Democrats tabled:

    “Line 3, at end add ‘except that this House considers that, in the light of Article 1, paragraph 58 of the Treaty of Lisbon, inserting into the Treaty on European Union Article 49A which provides for Member States to withdraw from the Union in accordance with their own constitutional requirements, the Government should declare its intention that, once the Treaty of Lisbon has come into force, there will be a referendum on the United Kingdom’s continuing membership of the European Union.’.”

  • Another Denis 27th Feb '08 - 8:42am

    Jock says: “… The only way we get to invoke Article 50, on the withdrawal of a member state from the EU, is to have Article 50 adopted in the first place through the current Treaty.”

    The UK has always been able to leave the EU at any time it chooses, without Article 50. What do you think would have happened if the 1975 referendum had resulted in a “no” vote? The papers with contingency plans for withdrawal in that event are in the National Archives.

    The purpose of Article 50 is to make withdrawal of a member state a matter of EU law, rather than national law, and therefore subject to the (at least tacit) approval of the ECJ. Rather than facilitating withdrawal, it is in fact an attempt to impede it.

  • Just to reinforce what Mark Pack says. The amendment was 100 per cent in order and had been agreed to be so by the clerks. It would not have been able to be tabled if it had not been.

    I find it astonishing that nowhere is it set out the criteria the Speaker uses in selecting amendments. It really does seem to be completely Speaker’s discretion, with the only sanction at the end of the day being the ultimate one of removing the Speaker, if MPs are sufficiently unhappy with him/her.

    In the circumstances it is not surprising that I have heard it suggested that the Speaker decided it was in his best interests to keep the Labour and (especially) Conservative front benches sweet at the cost of p*ssing off the Liberal Democrats on this occasion.

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