Nick Herbert: Pushing for a referendum on the EU

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert

The Conservatives won a majority of local votes in last week’s elections, but across the country the major parties lost out as many people registered a protest vote.

Immigration was clearly a major concern. The Government has successfully tackled migration from outside the EU. But migration from within the EU cannot at present be limited.

Changing that would require amending the EU, or leaving. The election results across Europe underline the need for reform, and the Conservatives have promised a renegotiation of our membership followed by an in/out referendum by 2017.

Then the people can choose. Some, however, have said there should be a referendum now.

The Prime Minister wants to re-negotiate first to secure a better deal for Britain before holding a referendum, so as to give a proper choice.

But in any case we couldn’t hold the referendum right now, because that would require a Bill to be passed by Parliament which Labour and the Liberal Democrats would oppose.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I voted for the Bill to make a referendum by 2017 a legal requirement. It was scuppered by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

So while I understand the concerns that lie behind the demand for a referendum now, it’s not a practical suggestion.

Of course, after the next election it’s a different matter.

And on 8 May 2015, in less than a year’s time, realistically one of only two people will be Prime Minister.

Either it will be David Cameron, whose party manifesto will pledge a referendum on Europe. I hear people say they don’t trust that promise.

But there would be no going back on it. Conservative MPs simply would not allow a reversal.

Remember, it wasn’t the Conservatives who signed the Lisbon Treaty without the promised referendum - we weren’t in government then. It was Labour.

Or it will be Ed Miliband in Number 10. He’s rejected a referendum, and he stands for higher borrowing, higher spending and higher taxes.

Voting in a general election is for a government with serious decisions to take. A protest vote then may not be a luxury people can afford.

2015 is the vote that will really count. Which will people want? David Cameron in Number 10, or Ed Miliband?

A referendum on Europe, or no referendum? That will be the real choice the country will face.

If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or e-mail me at nick@nickherbert.com.