Thursday, October 20, 2011

Now IS the time for a referendum on Europe

Over 100,000 signatures collected by volunteer groups and some brave Conservative MPs have forced a vote in Parliament over UK membership of the EU. All the main party leaders are forcing their MPs to vote against a referendum. Strange bed-fellows Cameron and Miliband are effectively saying the same thing: now’s not the time.

They are wrong. It’s the perfect time for the British people to be given a say on the EU. After all they have not been consulted for over 35 years. They have never had the chance to say whether they want to be part of what the EU has grown into since those seemingly innocuous origins of six countries in a Common Market.

Since then, with barely a nod to democratic process, the EU has grown into a 27 state behemoth that reaches into every legislative area, slaps down our courts and parliament, dictates who we can let in to the country and claims to speak for us in the world.

It also soaks up enormous sums of money, a net £12 billion of which comes from the UK taxpayer. As we wrestle with a massive fiscal deficit, now is most definitely the time to consider whether we can afford to pay this massive subsidy to our neighbours and debate what we get in return.

Many other economic issues are tied up with the EU from the burden of regulation on industry to the effects of unchecked immigration and the impact of EU schemes to undermine the City. Far from a referendum being a distraction in a time of economic crisis, it may be a pre-requisite of recovery. We should at least be able to debate the arguments rather than remain permanently shackled to the Euro project which has never looked so tarnished and dysfunctional.

Some argue that the sovereign debt crisis should be given priority at the moment and that a referendum is an irrelevance we could do without. On the contrary, the Euro crisis is the most compelling reason for a debate on continued membership. For one thing it has undermined one of the principal claims of the Euro-enthusiasts: that Europe does things better and we would be better off inside the club.

Also, however the crisis is resolved, it is sure to presage enormous changes in the way the euro area and EU are run. We deserve to be consulted before the UK government has to decide how to respond to the crucial choices that are bound to result.

Fundamentally the Euro crisis has exposed the dearth of democratic legitimacy in the rotten core of Europe. The political elites have pushed the project along hard and fast ignoring popular doubts and look what a mess has resulted. Just think of how the German electorate must think about their politicians’ promises about no bail outs and pooled debt.

With the sole exception of the Euro and one or two opt-outs, UK governments have gone along with the lot and have never put the issues to the people. Now is the time to remove that stain on our democratic heritage and have a referendum on this vital topic.

If you feel the same way you can make your voice heard (in a small way!) by signing the People's Pledge here.

On our website this week Spain is bringing back the wealth tax

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