Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Real Referendum

In the next few weeks Parliament will be voting on whether to hold a European referendum. The Conservatives are proposing a restrictive referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. My colleagues and I are campaigning hard for the British people to be given a real choice through a referendum on our membership of the European Union as a whole:

In British politics, only the Liberal Democrats have argued consistently that Britain's place is at the heart of Europe.

While Labour and the Tories have torn themselves apart over the issue, we have been steadfast for decades in our support for Britain's membership of the European Union.

Why then, you may ask, are the Liberal Democrats now alone among the main parties proposing a referendum on whether to stay in the European Union or get out?

The answer is because the European debate has poisoned British politics for too long. If we as a nation are to stride forward confidently into the 21st century and tackle all the new global issues like climate change and terrorism we need to decide once and for all whether that future lies within the European Union, or outside it.

Like most people, I want to see a reformed, liberal Europe where decisions are taken at the most appropriate level. That is why the Liberal Democrats are in favour of the Lisbon Treaty. It will make the EU more effective, more efficient and more accountable, enabling us to cope better with enlargement. It will help us to tackle issues such as cross-border crime and climate change and it will give the EU a stronger voice on the world stage.

The old, abandoned Constitution would have scrapped and replaced all the previous treaties. The Lisbon Treaty is just an amending treaty. So our proposal is closest to the commitment made by all three parties at the last election for a referendum on a European constitution.

Over the next few weeks we will be stepping up our campaign to demand that the government honours that commitment to the British people:

The Conservatives are conspiring to deny the public a real choice over Europe. Over the years their Euroscepticism has hardened into outright hatred of everything to do with the European Union. In Government they denied the British people a referendum on really important Treaties like Maastricht and the Single European Act. In opposition they call for a referendum on even the smallest change.

We must not let the Tories con the British people again. Their call for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is a side show to the real debate on Europe which they are afraid to have with the British people.

We want that real debate. We want a referendum on Europe that really matters. In that referendum we will argue long and hard for Britain's vital place in the EU, and, I believe, defeat the Eurosceptics for a generation.

I would relish the chance to lead the Liberal Democrats at the forefront of that campaign.

Please support our campaign for a real referendum by clicking here and signing up to our petition:

Best wishes,

Nick Clegg
Leader of the Liberal Democrats
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