This is a mythical speech that could be delivered tomorrow in the House of Commons by a MP opposing the resolution for a referendum. In my view it’s both realistic and honest, and hence there’s not a hope in hell anyone’s going to say anything like this… but anyway, here’s the speech.
My honourable friends. Seeing so many of you here today is testimony to the gravity of this issue. Britain’s relationship with the European Union is a matter of first order constitutional importance. The EU impacts on almost every area of our lives and politics, from foreign policy to trade, from environmental protection to the success of our economy.
It is for those reasons that I am opposed to the resolution.
The decision to hold this debate was taken less than a week ago. The days since then have been full of recriminations, with my honourable friends subjected to criticism and pressure not known in this house in recent times. Those are no circumstances under which to take a decision as important as one about a vote on the future of Britain’s place in the EU.
As this year’s AV referendum showed, referendums can be a way to bring more people into the political process, but the campaign did little credit to either side, with the battle and tactics in the media being more important than the ‘facts’ about AV themselves – in as far as anyone could possibly determine them! Let’s not forget that the complexity of the European Union makes AV look like child’s play.
So before we go anywhere near a referendum on any EU question – or any other national referendum for that matter – we need to reflect and learn about the role of referendums, how campaigns can be fairly run, and to learn from those countries where referendums take place regularly.
We need rules on how referendums should be run in this country, to ensure they are fair and participative, and run in a way so as to improve our political processes and not simply be used as a way for the political class to abdicate responsibility on issues too complicated for this house to deal with.
The anti-referendum argument advanced by the government – that a referendum would be a distraction at this time of economic woe in the Eurozone – is not an adequate one, for politics should trump economics here. However with the prospect of Treaty change at EU level in the pipeline there will be a time in the not too distant future where we can revisit this issue.
Hence I urge you, my honourable friends, to reject this motion, not because the matter at hand is an unimportant distraction as the government may say, but for precisely the opposite reason – that Britain’s relationship with the EU is one of the central issues of our day, and any issue of such scale should not be agreed with such haste and inadequate discussion and deliberation.