Peter Hoskin

Clegg and his European red herring

Clegg and his European red herring
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Now, as Fraser’s noted before, the official Lib Dem position on the Lisbon Treaty is a tad bizarre.  Nonetheless, Nick Clegg stubbornly sets about defending it in today’s Guardian:

“It's time we pulled out the thorn and healed the wound, time for a debate politicians have been too cowardly to hold for 30 years - time for a referendum on the big question. Do we want to be in or out? Nobody in Britain under the age of 51 has ever been asked that simple question. None of them were eligible to vote in that 1975 referendum. That includes half of all MPs. Two generations have never had their say...

… Pro-Europeans have got to face up to the truth: the EU is not popular in Britain. It is perceived as distant, and is mistrusted. And some of the allegations levelled against it are hard to deny. The EU could be a lot more liberal and democratic, and the Lisbon treaty would help it to do both. So let's trust the people with the real question: in or out?

A referendum on the Lisbon treaty, as the Conservatives want, would not give them that say. It would give them a say on the voting system in the European council and the number of EU commissioners, but would it give them a say on being part of the single market or the common agricultural policy? No. The treaty does not change the terms of Britain's relationship with the EU in any way that could be described as 'constitutional'."

Calling for – as Clegg puts it – a “referendum on Europe with substance,” just doesn’t wash.  It’s a gigantic red herring.  Unlike a referendum on the Treaty (aka the European Constitution), an in-or-out-of-Europe vote wasn’t promised in any of the main parties’ election manifestos.  Besides – in relative terms – it’s politically unachievable.  The problem for Clegg is that plenty of Lib Dems realise this too, and they’re not happy with the situation...

P.S. Iain Martin reminds us of the mass-lobby of Parliament organized for 27th February by I Want a Referendum.

P.P.S. More good stuff on Clegg and Europe over at Three Line Whip.