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Friday, October 17, 2003

THE CASE FOR A REFERENDUM ON THE EU CONSTITUTION Be sure to read this piece in the Telegraph by Lady Meyer, who is co-chairman of Vote 2004, the cross-party campaign for a referendum on the constitution:

But it isn't only heads of state and government who should be behind a referendum. The European constitution will affect everyone in the country in the minutiae of our daily lives. It would affect the legal system and the police. It would give the EU powers over the sentences criminals receive. It would give the EU the ability to co-ordinate the economic and social policies of member states. Under the constitution, we would give up our right to veto EU asylum policies under one great over-arching EU "common asylum policy".

. . .

However the negotiations come out, the accumulation of changes since 1975, enshrined in the new constitution, will mark a massive qualitative advance over the past 28 years. The plain truth is that the EU of 2003 is already profoundly different from the Common Market of 1975. If it was right to hold a referendum on Britain's membership in 1975, it must logically be right to hold one on the new constitution, which will fix our national destiny for decades to come.
This is not an argument against the constitution, or EU membership. It is a position to which Europhiles and Euro-sceptics alike can rally. A referendum, properly framed and debated, should subsume the Government's promise to hold one on the euro. It would also put an end to the endless debate about Britain's role in the European Union.
Some argue that a referendum would undermine our tradition of parliamentary democracy. But there are moments in our history when the matter in hand is of such great importance that it is right to consult the people directly. Certainly, several European countries have reached the same conclusion

I don't agree with this line anyway that a referendum would undermine the principle of parliamentary democracy. The question at hand is exactly about parliamentary democracy and whether and how its constitutional position and sovereignty should be changed. This decision cannot be taken by Parliament just as the original decisions to create parliamentary sovereignty were taken not by Parliament but by the higher legitimising power of the Crown. Coincidentally the Queen's concerns about the constitution fit neatly into this tradition. Of course we don't in practise think that the Queen is the legitimising higher power for the state anymore. Quite rightly that position today is the people of the UK and that is why we, and not just Tony Blair and a majority number of MPs, are those who must make any permanent changes to the sovereignty of Parliament.

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