I support a referendum on the EU Treaty and do not believe that it should be ratified simply by Members of Parliament. When I stood for re-election in 2005, I not only stood on a manifesto that promised a referendum on this treaty, but I specifically made reference to it in my election address to all my constituents as well. I took (and take) these pledges very seriously, and do not believe that I should opt out of them for simple political expediency.
There are important matters in the treaty, including loss of our veto, and therefore our sovereignty, in over 60 new areas from energy policy to employment policy to policy affecting our public services like health and education, meaning the UK could be outvoted on important issues which directly affect our citizens. When the Constitutional Treaty was put to a public vote in 2005 in Holland and France, their publics (rightly in my view) rejected it in national referendums because they felt that it removed too much power from their control.
The revised treaty is essentially no different from the previous one: across Europe, the leaders of all the countries who signed up to this treaty recognise that it is almost identical to the old, rejected one. All that has changed are the frankly minor references to the EU's flag, anthem and motto, and these cosmetic alterations do not invalidate the pledge on which we were elected. It is not merely a tidying up exercise and it is no less controversial in its content.
There has been a lot of talk about how the UK has established red lines to protect the national interest, but expert analysis of these has not been reassuring. The chair of the independent European Scrutiny Committee, Michael Connarty MP, has stated that these lines are not solid and will not hold. I have not been comforted that these will preserve our independence.
Of course we must have a constructive relationship with the EU, but the public will never accept the massive bureaucracy gradually encroaching on more and more of our lives. The rulers of the EU must recognise that they cannot rule without consent. The views of the British people are not something to find clever ways to by-pass: they must be at the heart of any changes to our European membership.
I have always believed that changes of this magnitude should be agreed to by the public rather than just Parliament. I called for a referendum in 1992 over the Maastricht Treaty when the Conservatives were in power and I believe that just as there ought to have been one then so there ought to be one now. Of course at that time the Conservative Government did not promise a referendum - unlike the Labour Government in 2005. These issues transcend ordinary matters of policy because they are about giving up powers that are the preserve of the people, not of MPs who are only given power for a limited term. These powers are not mine to give up, they will be placed in the hands of Eurocrats who cannot be removed democratically, and so the whole country should have a say.