Opinion: Liberal Reform urge MEPs to oppose a secret vote on the EU Budget

European Parliament chamber, StrasbourgIt 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 a councillor in Wimbledon and a member of the board of Liberal Reform.

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  • Spot on, Simon. I’d go further, by putting something through the House of Commons requiring ALL British MEPs to state publicly how they vote – there’s something niggling in my mind that because they are there as a result of an Act of Parliament then we can do this, but I’m sure constitutional experts will put me right if not…

  • The very idea of a secret vote by parliamentarians who are supposed to be there representing their constituents is quite shocking. I thought they only did thing like this in really corrupt political systems like Italy.

  • Agreed. This secret vote nonsense is a gift to UKIP.

  • ” I thought they only did thing like this in really corrupt political systems”
    Which is exactly what the EU has become, and a clear reason why the UK should be shut of it.

  • @Antony Hook, what does that mean in practice though?

    Firstly, clearly that you would never be one of the 20 percent of MEPs requesting a secret ballot.

    But “Secondly”. is not so clear. This time if there is a secret ballot the commentariat will say that the secret ballot has been requested in order to allow the legislation to be defeated. In that case does it still apply that you would never vote in favour of the legislation (thereby playing into the hands of MEPs calling the secret ballot) – or does it mean that you would never vote against legislation (even if you originally wanted to) where the MEPs were considered by commentators to have called the vote to defeat it? Is the pledge contingent on what people say the motivation for the secret ballot is?

    I like your pledge, but you need to spell out the practicalities.

  • Which leaves the point – how will Lib Dem MEPs vote on the budget? As a fervent europhile I say they must vote solidly for.
    In my view the Westminster MPs who privately cursed even as they publicly acclaimed Cameron for his efforts are the europhobes. They know that any demonstration of British ability to influence what happens in Europe helps to cement the EU membership which they fervently wish to terminate.

  • Indeed, I would expect our MEPs to cast a critical eye over the EU Budget, not just uncritically support what has been negotiated in secret in the Council. Being a “Europhile” should not mean slavish support for EU legislation or policy.

  • Ok Antony.

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