National Referendum on the European Union

Part of Backbench Business — [34th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:18 pm on 24th October 2011.

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Photo of Natascha Engel Natascha Engel Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee 6:18 pm, 24th October 2011

I will make a little progress and then I will be happy to give way.

The architects of the European Union have created something of such size and complexity that they themselves have admitted that it has become too big to fail. At the same time, for most normal people the EU becomes ever more remote and unaccountable. It is a political project that people feel has gone too far, too fast, with many things that affect their daily lives being determined by Brussels and not Westminster. That makes this a matter of sovereignty.

As my hon. Friend John Cryer has said, we have referendums very rarely in this country and only on matters that concern how we govern ourselves. As elected politicians who govern, we have a vested interest in this matter, and because we have a vested interest it is a matter that we should not decide just for ourselves. Over the weekend and in the earlier statement the Government argued that now is not the right time to hold a referendum because of the crisis in the eurozone, but it is precisely that crisis that has demonstrated to us how bound up in Europe we have become politically and economically and how little influence we have over the decisions that are taken.

The truth is that the “not the right time” argument has nothing to do with markets and everything to do with what people might say. The Government are worried that people might say no, and, as every experienced politician knows, you do not ask the question unless you are sure that you will get the answer you want. No is not the answer that the Government want.

Last summer, the Government introduced e-petitions to engage and better connect with people and to give them a chance to have their say. The Government promised that any e-petition that gained more than

100,000 signatures would be taken very seriously by the House. We have welcomed the debates on the riots and on Hillsborough, but when it comes to something that is inconvenient and that the Government do not want to have debated, suddenly now is not the right time. If we pick and choose, we are telling people that politicians will decide what people are and, more importantly, what they are not allowed to have a say on. That is not democracy.

Yesterday, we celebrated free and democratic elections in Tunisia. Next week we celebrate Parliament week and this year’s theme is stories of democracy. What a terrible shame it would be if today we took one of the most anti-democratic decisions of our generation and denied people a say on something as fundamental as who governs them.