The welcome demise of the referendum bill

Coalition squabbles seem to have led to the demise of the bill that curiously sought to bind the next government (but not this one) to hold an in-out referendum on EU membership, even if it is elected on a pledge to focus on other priorities. This failure is to be welcomed for at least four reasons.

  1. Because it’s wrong for one parliament to try to bind the next in this way. The electorate has the right to vote for any party on the basis of its manifesto, including a party opposed to a referendum, if it so chooses. If this bill had become law, the Tories would effectively have taken away that choice from the electorate, by binding an incoming Labour government to carry out a Tory policy, no matter what was in the manifesto on which it was elected.
  2. Because ‘in or out’ is the wrong question. The real question is how we change and improve the EU, how it will evolve, and what its priorities should be. This is a multifaceted issue. A simplistic ‘in or out’ question misses the real point, especially when it’s a false choice because the ‘out’ option is economic suicide.
  3. Because we are a parliamentary democracy, so that the nuances of multifaceted problems can be addressed in detail by our elected representatives.
  4. Because an obligation to hold a referendum in 2017 would have been a massive distraction from an incoming Labour government’s — and the country’s — priorities: not least the economy, the cost-of-living crisis, saving the NHS, and security. Indeed, a referendum that evoked the prospect of exit from the EU, even if such a result is unlikely, would have worsened the economic situation as investors held back until the outcome is secure.

Frankly, it’s high time for the government to focus on real issues instead of parliamentary gimmicks. Had they done that before, they might for instance have noticed what their civil servants had been telling them since May about Britain’s EU budget contributions.

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