Anyone who is under the age of 54 has never had a say in Britain's relationship with the EU. So the news that MPs will vote this week on whether to hold a referendum on the European Union is to be welcomed. The time is right for a discussion on the subject.
The debate will be held today after the Backbench Business Committee, in the House of Commons, received a petition signed by more than 100,000 people. If the referendum goes ahead then it will be the first on the EU in the country since 1975.
The fact is that the majority of the British public believe that we should leave the European Union and many MPs are becoming increasingly Euro-sceptic. According to YouGov's poll almost half of the public would vote to leave the EU in a referendum on Britain's membership. A ConservativeHome poll of Tory members in September, said as many as 60% wanted to leave the EU altogether and renegotiate a trade agreement. Ten Conservative MPs have joined Better Off Out and nearly a third would be prepared to see Britain leave the EU.
We know that Cameron opposes an in/out referendum on the EU but the motion also includes a third option: for the UK to "re-negotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation." The motion states:
"The House calls upon the Government to introduce a Bill in the next session of Parliament to provide for the holding of a national referendum on whether the United Kingdom
(a) should remain a member of the European Union on the current terms;
(b) leave the European Union; or
(c) re-negotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation."
The EU has traditionally ranked about 10th on the list of voter priorities after health, education, jobs and tax and so on. However, there is a growing realisation that the EU impacts on a huge range of issues from immigration to energy, not to mention the financial implications of the Euro crisis and the spiralling EU budget.
We need to have a considered debate on Europe before any further powers are handed to Brussels. The ongoing crisis in the Eurozone has reinforced the need to have a referendum especially with fiscal integration amongst the countries in the Euro looking likely.
Most of the population want trade, peace and friendship with our European neighbours. However, the majority do not want a government in Brussels dictating to us in a number of areas where we alone should decide what to do. Brussels should not be allowed control over our money, our budgets, our taxes, our armies, our foreign policy or our criminal justice system.
At the time of writing it looks most likely that Cameron will impose a three-line whip rather than give backbenchers a free vote. I hope this is not the case as it looks likely that many MPs would rebel. Already 46 Tory MPs (out of 58 in total) have signed the motion. Why not then have a free vote like the one offered on prisoner voting rights?
Having a debate is an important step towards rebuilding public trust and giving us, the general public, a say on such a major issue. After all, we were never given the opportunity for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
The country's last referendum was in 1975 under Labour's Prime Minister Harold Wilson on the issue of joining the European Economic Community (EEC). In that instance the yes campaign won with 66% of the public opting to stay as a member of the international body. We already had a referendum earlier this year on the alternative vote. There is a lot more support for a referendum on EU membership than the one we had on changing the voting system in May.
I know a debate on the referendum is not necessarily binding. However, I hope that the Prime Minister will support the outcome regardless. The public deserves the chance to have a say on the UK's relationship with Brussels.
This referendum would be a chance to restore UK democracy. Laws in the UK should be ones that we want, not ones imposed on us from across the Channel. If the outcome of today's debate is to hold a referendum on the EU then I hope that David Cameron will support it.