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On Monday night there was a seismic shift in British politics. 111 MP’s defied their party whips and voted in favour of a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the European Union. Over half the Conservative Party in government failed to support the leadership in a Euro rebellion twice the size of the Maastricht rebellion in 1993. It would seem that the Coalition’s first term under David Cameron is just as dysfunctional as the Conservatives’ fourth term under John Major.
This was not a rebellion by a group of reactionary Tories who are still reliving the battles of the 1980s. This was a show of strength by the bright young things of the 2010 intake. The list of rebels included names such as Zac Goldsmith and Priti Patel alongside the old guard such as John Redwood and David Davis. They have proven that ‘euroscepticism’ is not the reserve of UKIP and the radical fringe. This is a mainstream view which is dominant in the Conservative Party and is growing in the country.
Many have claimed that the European Union is simply not an important issue for voters these days. However, the truth of the matter is that the European Union has never been more relevant. The Eurozone is going into free fall with British taxpayers’ money is being thrown onto the financial bonfire as the Eurozone leaders bailed out Greece, then Ireland, then Portugal, then Greece again, and now they want to waste another 100 billion euros to bailout European banks, while the European budget committee votes to give itself a 4.2% budget increase and plans to create new taxes at a time when public spending cuts and tax rises are being implemented at home. The European Union is something that is affecting everyone’s everyday lives and everyone knows it.
A recent Guardian/ICM poll has shown that a staggering 70% want a referendum, of which 49% would vote to leave, and over the 40% would vote to stay. This is no longer a minor issue. Nearly 84% of the British people have never had a say over the European Union and it has been over 36 years of disenfranchisement for those who voted in 1975. The public presence of ‘euroscepticism’ is clearly evident with the growth of UKIP, the Daily Express coming out in favour of withdrawal, the People’s Pledge, and the Better Off Out campaign.
However, it should not just be ‘eurosceptics’ supporting a referendum. Europhiles should also support a referendum so that they can put forward their case to the British people and should an ‘In’ campaign win then the European Union would have democratic legitimacy. ‘Euro-moderates’ also support a referendum so that they can call out for the repatriation of powers. A referendum on Britain’s relationship with the European Union would ensure that our democratically elected representatives can actually discuss this issue openly and in a sophisticated manner instead of being in denial.
It is now clear that the costs outweigh the benefits. Withdrawal from the European Union will stop British taxpayers’ money being wasted in Brussels on fat cat salaries, bailouts and vanity projects, demolish the mountains of paperwork and reams of red tape which are suffocating British enterprise, and give power back to the British people. That is why it is essential that David Cameron takes affirmative action towards the European Union during this crisis. Come on, let’s have that referendum!
By David Cowan