David Cameron must start listening to the people on Europe, not "President" Barroso

The British people are massively in favour of a referendum on the EU. The government is burying its head in the sand.

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President Barroso? Who elected him?
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The Commentator
On 23 October 2011 12:59

Something quite extraordinary is happening in Europe on Monday.

A member state of the European Union is being allowed to hold a debate on its relationship with Europe. Honestly, it’s true. And that country is Britain.

To be sure, the governing classes are furious. Conservative, Lib-Dem and Labour leaders have all imposed three line whips against the motion calling for a referendum in an attempt to strong arm backbenchers into toeing the party line that “now is not the time” for such a “distraction” from the economic crisis.

They’ll probably get their way. But the victory may be Pyrrhic . According to a poll in the Mail on Sunday, 80 percent think the prime minister should allow members of parliament a free vote.

Moreover, 61 percent want a referendum, with the most popular preference – 49 percent “for” as opposed to 31 percent “against” – being for a re-negotiated relationship with Brussels focusing on trade and cooperation.

Asked whether Britain should stay in the EU or leave it altogether 44 percent said we should not leave, an option favoured by a mere 34 percent of voters.

That should concentrate the minds of those in favour of an In-Out referendum. Chances are the “Ins” would win handing a massive (and totally undeserved) victory to the Europhiles.

We’re with the British people on this one. Yes we should have a referendum and yes our preferred option is for a radically renegotiated relationship.

But let us be clear – this is not a soft option.

We would go for a referendum giving voters the option of that third way – not to do so would obviously be undemocratic in view of the polling figures – but we’d give a legal guarantee for a second In-Out referendum in five years’ time so the people can pass judgement on whether the politicians have truly kept their word.

This is clearly the most democratic and reasonable path to take. It gives people the option of expressing their top preference while enforcing accountability in a relatively short time frame.

As for the government’s line that this is “not the right time” for a referendum on Europe, we have two words to say: bah humbug.

For the Foreign Office and Number 10 it’s never the right time for a referendum on Europe. The last time we had one was 1975 and if they haven’t found the “right time” in 36 years they’re just not going to.

In any case, the notion that a referendum would be a distraction from dealing with the economy is ludicrous. It is precisely the deep integrationist tendencies of the Eurocracy that have compounded our economic crisis.

If David Cameron had his thinking head on over this issue he’d not only be backing a referendum in Britain he’d be telling the other member state leaders that they should hold similar referendums of their own.

Britain’s economy, as messrs Cameron and Osborne rightly say, is heavily dependent on the trade we do with Europe. Without radical reform, Europe will never be the economic powerhouse we need it to be.

Fat chance that anyone would listen to such a call of course. But the prime minister would at least be showing the kind of leadership that many people in Britain and across Europe yearn for.

As it is, he’s decided to bury his head in the sand and stop the British people having their say on something they feel deeply about. Many Conservatives will be wondering whether that was why they voted for him.

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