- Category: Weekly Column
I was one of those who pressed for a referendum on our membership of the EU. Yet in some ways I am coming to regret it.
It has meant that the normal business of governing the country, and Parliamentary life, is more or less ‘on hold’ for another month or so. Are ministers focussing as well as they normally do on running the country; or are they diverted by the latest Brexit argument or the likelihood of a major post-referendum re-shuffle?
Nor is the referendum doing much good for sensible Party management. In the total absence of any kind of Opposition, the Conservative Party seems to be revelling in the largely internal battle, close friends and colleagues, some of whom are still in Government, thinking nothing of launching blistering personal attacks on one another.
The State Opening of Parliament last week, with all its magnificence and flummery, with Her Majesty making a most gracious speech, and with a four day debate on it to follow, has almost disappeared under the waves, the main press interest being the absence of the a ‘Sovereignty Bill’ which Mr Cameron had promised as a vain sop to Eurosceptics.
The consequences of all of that are serious and long-reaching, and I do very much regret the way that a perfectly sensible constitutional and economic argument has been allowed to become so personal. Surely civilised and intelligent people should be able to discuss these matters without falling out over it?
Yet I am unashamed in saying that the Referendum is absolutely necessary and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to free ourselves from the shackles of the EU. It is a matter of such huge significance to the governance of Britain for a generation and more to come, that it is not a matter which should be decided behind closed doors, nor by the political elite. It is a fundamental matter on which the people themselves must decide. It will be a decision which most people, not being academics, nor economists will make by instinct, even emotion rather than hard fact. Do we want to be part of a United States of Europe, stretching from Greece to the Shetlands, 500 million people of a huge diversity of histories and culture bound together in a single strait-jacket? Or do we feel more comfortable being governed from Westminster with the opportunity to get rid of the government every five years if we do not like what they are doing?
That is the simple question at the heart of the debate, and it is a question which we should consider dispassionately and quietly. I am doing a large number of meetings and debates over the next month or so all over North Wiltshire. I very much hope that that spirit of civilised debate will be their hallmark.