The Spectator

We must have a referendum

We must have a referendum

Over the next few weeks, Britons all over the country will be filing into town halls for a series of public meetings over the future of the EU. Others will be participating from their homes and offices via the Internet, before debate culminates in a vote on the question: should Europe have a constitution and if so what should it contain?

Actually, none of this is going to happen. The government has launched ‘national debates’ on GM food and children’s eating habits, held a referendum as to whether the citizens of Hartlepool should be given the chance to elect a monkey as their mayor, and published consultation documents on everything from gay marriage to fat cats’ pay. But when it comes to the question of whether Britain should cede sovereignty to what would amount to a new pan-European polity, debate is limited to grey men ensconced in faceless buildings somewhere in Euroland. We are being treated like children: allowed to choose the colour of our bedrooms yet left to overhear snatches of more important discussions deemed best left to the grown-ups.

It is probable that the greater proportion of British voters are unaware that negotiations on the proposed EU constitution were this week revived by the current EU president, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, and that they should be completed within 12 weeks. Newspapers friendly to the government have failed to report the development. It is quite possible that many voters were equally unaware that talks on the constitution were suspended last December amid disagreements on voting weights granted to Poland and Spain. A good number are no doubt unaware that negotiations over a constitution ever started in the first place.

In fact, it would not surprise us in the least if we ended up with a civil servant tried under the Official Secrets Act for breaking the news blackout on the EU constitution.

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