No matter what happens at the Commons, a popular vote is now inevitable say MPs and campaigners
Campaigners for a referendum for Britain to leave the EU have told LondonlovesBusiness.com they are on the brink of victory.
They claim the result of Monday’s parliamentary vote on a referendum is irrelevant. Support for a referendum is now so strong, both amongst politicians and the wider population, that neither David Cameron nor Ed Miliband will be able to prevent one being held in the near future.
Mark Reckless, Conservative MP for the Kent constituency of Rochester and Strood, tells us: “It is now a question of when and what the wording is on that referendum. The principle has been conceded.”
He says the weight of support for a referendum within the Tory party is close to achieving critical mass: “The number of MPs supporting a referendum is over 70 now and I know of at least 10 more Conservatives who have told me they will vote for the motion.
“As MPs speak with their constituents over the weekend I think that number is going to grow. I will encourage MPs to consider the issue on its merits and understand that it is time to let people have their say.”
The motion to hold a referendum, tabled at the Backbench Business Committee by prominent Eurosceptic MPs Peter Bone, Philip Davies and Philip Hollobone, is mired in controversy. All three party leaders are vigorously demanding their MPs vote against a referendum. Threats allegedly include banning MPs having extra time off at Christmas, giving their seat to a rival MP and a four-year veto on becoming a Minister.
But MPs across the political divide are breaking ranks to support a referendum.
Speaking at a EU Referendum conference in Westminster Methodist Central Hall on Saturday organised by the People’s Pledge lobby group, Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins insisted he would demand a referendum no matter what pressure was applied by whips, because of the economic damage inflicted on the UK by common European fisheries and agriculture policies.
Labour MP for Vauxhall, Kate Hoey, said a referendum was a democratic issue which should unite all parties and that she would ignore the whip to vote for a referendum.
Former Labour minister for Europe, Keith Vaz, said he would defy the whip to vote for a referendum, even though he supported EU membership, on the grounds that the British people alone had the right to decide the issue.
Labour MP Graham Stringer announced he would vote against the wishes of his party leaders to back a referendum.
Likewise, Green Party candidate for London mayor and Assembly member Jenny Jones said she was prepared to “be a rogue” and break her party’s official support for the EU by demanding a referendum.
Even opponents of a referendum, championed by Mark Littlewood of the IEA think-tank and former LibDem MP Lembit Opik, conceded at the conference that the debate seems to have become a question of if, not when, a vote is held. Littlewood emphasised the complexity of the alternatives to full membership was the biggest sticking point.
The People’s Pledge lobby group says the reason its supporters are convinced a referendum is inevitable, is the groundswell of popular support. A recent YouGov poll put support for exiting the EU at 47 per cent, against 33 per cent to stay in.
More than two-thirds of voters said the issue deserved to be put to a referendum.
Co-founder Christopher Bruni-Lowe says: “After the Monday vote we will find another 50 MPs to back us. We will get them to take our pledge to support a referendum and then our numbers will be over 100. We have 90,000 supporters and 5,000 constituency activists targeting key marginals.
“This is bigger than the political parties.”
Marta Andreasen, the former chief accountant of the European Commission, now a UKIP MEP for South East England, points at David Cameron as a prime example of a politician suffering for his refusal to back a referendum:
“Cameron has lost a lot of respect from the people because he promised a referendum. And now there is a debate he wants to block it. His reputation is suffering greatly from this.
“The reality is that we are going through a financial crisis which is making even the most Europhile have doubts that we’ll ever come out in good shape. There is no doubt the debate is changing. Even the Europhiles are starting to realise we are in deep trouble.”
And what sort of time scale could we be looking at?
UKIP MEP David Campbell Bannerman says that although a vote is almost inevitable, nothing will happen near term: “I think we are looking after 2015, after the general election – that is realistic. A referendum will probably come because of the Euro collapsing, forcing us to redefine our relationship with the EU”.
Bruni-Lowe agreed that the next election will be the moment to secure a referendum. “We want to make sure that going into a general election all the parliamentary candidates from all parties, Green, Lib Dem, Labour, Tory, all of them, will be elected on a pro-referendum basis”.