The EU referendum motion should be debated in its original form.
It has been argued that the Nuttall motion could split the Eurosceptic public, but the Eustice amendment will split Eurosceptic MPs before the public have any chance to be consulted.
In advance of Monday's big vote in the House of Commons on a motion calling for a referendum on the UK's relationship with the EU, George Eustice MP has tabled an amendment saying:
"This House calls upon the Government to publish a White Paper during the next session of parliament setting out the powers and competences that the Government would seek to repatriate from the EU, to commence a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU and to put the outcome of those negotiations to a national referendum.”
Donna Rachel Edmunds argued on these very pages that the amendment should be supported, particularly by the 'out' campaign, as it would allow them to argue further down the line that renegotiation had been tried and failed thereby making ‘out’ the logical result of a future in/out referendum.
But the Eustice amendment makes no mention of an in/out referendum. It only mentions putting the outcome of the negotiations to a referendum.
In truth, Eustice’s amendment may well make a very worthy option in its own right for those of us who would like to see a renegotiation of the UK's relationship with the EU.
But as an amendment to the original motion put forward by David Nuttall MP, it removes the most vital aspect - the option of leaving the EU - which is what has been demanded by the public e-petition that led the backbench business committee to decide that there should be a debate on this motion.
The David Nuttall motion, unamended, leaves all options on the table: staying in the EU, leaving, or renegotiating. Giving the people all the options is more important than trying to engineer a future referendum with the 'right' result that one group would like to see.
Holding a referendum before the UK attempted renegotiation would have the advantage of giving a popular mandate to the renegotiation process, giving the British Government greater leverage.
Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, recently said at an event at Chatham House that the UK should not try to repatriate any powers and that we would not have any bargaining chips.
If renegotiation is to have any hope of success, or of even being a meaningful process, we will need to show the EU that we are serious.
The type of renegotiation envisaged in Monday’s motion is the creation of "a new relationship based on trade and co-operation," ie. a fundamental change, not the piecemeal repatriation of some powers. Yet the Eustice amendment leaves it to the Government to decide what the terms of the renegotiation should be.
Given the Government's record so far in dealing with the EU, this is not an encouraging prospect.
The Government has participated in the EU bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal as well as having already agreed to EU treaty changes to create a permanent European Stabilisation Mechanism, without seeking to repatriate any powers in return.
Moreover, despite passing the European Union Act to provide for a referendum when powers are to transfer from the UK to the EU, the Government has decided that this particular treaty change will not require any referendum.
And let us not forget that the Government has opted in to numerous EU justice and home affairs laws.
Alarmingly, the Government has also given vocal support to the idea that the solution to the Eurozone crisis lies in even more integration for Euro countries, through 'fiscal union' and closer economic governance, risking both prolonging and exacerbating the Euro disaster while also creating a permanent bloc of even more integrated countries which will always be able to outvote the UK.
While the Eustice amendment is not a ‘wrecking amendment’, it does significantly water down the original motion in a way which will leave those who petitioned for a referendum disappointed.
Where a motion has been put forward by the backbench business committee in response to public petitions, they should not be amended so that their original meaning is lost.
It has been argued that the Nuttall motion could split the Eurosceptic public, but the Eustice amendment will split Eurosceptic MPs before the public have any chance to be consulted, scuppering this process from the beginning.
I am reminded of the amendment which was put forward to water down Mark Reckless’s motion against UK participation in Euro bailouts in May. The difference is that in this case the Government would not even back the amended, watered down, motion.
Instead, unless there is a last-minute change of heart, the Government seems determined to force a confrontation with backbenchers by running a 3-line whip against the motion in all its forms.
In doing so, it looks set to face the biggest rebellion of this Parliament and to show itself out of touch with the majority of British public opinion, which wants this debate to be opened up and not shut down.
Peter Cannon is a Conservative councillor in Dartford, Kent
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