How did your MP vote at Parliament last night over whether there should be a European referendum? ANDREW PELLING reports
The chairman of Croydon’s UK Independence Party has been left exasperated after all three of the borough’s MPs last night voted against having a referendum on EU membership at Westminster.
In total, 96 (including 15 abstainees) Tory MPs went against their leader, “Call Me Dave” Cameron, and defied their party’s three-line whip to back the call for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership, which the BBC has reported as “the biggest rebellion on Europe against a Conservative PM”.
Peter Staveley, UKIP’s most senior officer in Croydon, says that, “Monday was a bad day for Croydon as the people were denied the referendum they so desperately crave. Poll after poll shows the people either want out of the EU or to radically change the UK’s relationship with the EU.
“Yet all three Croydon MPs decided to deny the people a vote and snatched that opportunity away from them.”
Gavin Barwell, Croydon Central’s Conservative MP, is not much of a Tory rebel, despite stating that he hasn’t “followed whip on several issues”; once again he said one thing but then did another. Barwell said that he agreed with the proposed referendum, but then found reasons to toe the party line and vote with the government. Barwell said, “I have a lot of sympathy with this in principle … but not right now”.
Barwell said that he was worried that a three-option referendum could lead to a confusing result. “I believe it is a grave mistake to have a three-option referendum (the status quo, renegotiation and withdrawal), which is what the motion proposes,” Barwell said.
“Imagine a scenario where 34 per cent voted for the status quo, 33 per cent voted for renegotiation and 33 per cent voted for withdrawal. Technically the result would be the status quo, but that would clearly lack democratic legitimacy because 66 per cent would have voted for some kind of change.”
This is a slightly awkward argument from a man who was elected to Parliament in 2010 without the support of 61 per cent of his electorate.
Steven Gauge, a political consultant and a LibDem with a long history of politics in Croydon, is not that impressed by Barwell’s first argument about timing either, but he notes that “it was indeed LibDem policy at some point in the past to have an ‘In or Out’ referendum, just to settle the debate once and for all. However, it is heartening to see Gavin behaving as a loyal member of the coalition and long may that continue – well, at least until 2015.”
UKIP, though, seem determined to make Barwell pay for his vote against a referendum on Europe, something that the Conservatives have promised more than once in the past.
The Tories have a long and dishonorable record on votes and Europe, going back more than 40 years. In 1970, Ted Heath led the Conservatives to victory in a General Election with a manifesto promise to hold a referendum on whether Britain should join the Common Market. In 1973 Heath’s Conservatives broke this promise to the people, joining the Common Market without putting the option to the people, and creating the festering sore in British politics, and within their own party, that has lasted to this day.
Surely only the issue of Europe, and the personality of Ted Heath, could manage to contrive a situation where Enoch Powell and Tony Benn ended up campaigning together, as they would in 1975.
When Heath lost two elections in 1974, Labour’s Harold Wilson promised the public a chance to vote on what was by then known as the EEC, and he duly staged the nation’s first referendum in 1975. But the question was fundamentally different: instead of “shall we join or not?”, by then it was “shall we stay in or not?”
Two-thirds of those who voted opted for no change in membership.
Britain, and the Tory party particularly, have remained reluctant Europeans ever since. Under a later Conservative government, Britain was one of the few nations in what was by then called the European Union not to have a public vote to ratify the federalising Maastricht Treaty of 1993. Somehow, you might form the view that our “elders and betters” among the Tory grandees really don’t want to British public ever to get the chance to vote on Europe ever again.
Croydon UKIP’s Staveley thinks that we should, and soon. “Now is exactly the right time for a vote on membership of the EU. The EU will have to change anyway due to the various financial crises in Europe, and now is the time to find out what the people want.
“We should not forgive any of the three Croydon MPs. They are not interested in our views.”
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- EU referendum debate: the morning after the night before (politicsontoast.com)
- Party whip or conscience: where do our MPs stand? (insidecroydon.com)