15 MAR 2011
By Patrick O'Flynn | Daily Express
LAST Wednesday in the House of Commons the Prime Minister failed to answer a question put to him but answered one that had not been put instead. Nothing unusual about that you might think and you would be right. It is a tried and tested technique of politicians faced with a question they would rather not answer to resort to evasion.
But what was different on Wednesday was that David Cameron was not being deliberately evasive. He made a much more telling error than that. The question came from Conservative MP Peter Bone, who went through a list of those wanting a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union that began with “373,000 readers of the Daily Express” and ended with his wife. “Can we have a referendum on whether the United Kingdom remains in the European Union?” asked Mr Bone.
Mr Cameron replied: “I think we are better off inside the EU but making changes to it in the way that we are setting out.” Everyone already knew this was the Prime Minister’s own view. What he was actually asked about was the case for a referendum. For Mr Cameron to believe that just because he supports EU membership itfollows that a referendum cannot be held tells us two things.
The first is that he believes the outcome of the referendum would not be amenable to him, ie that Britain would vote to leave the EU. The second, evenmore significant thing it tells us is that deep down he does not believe in modern democracy.
It is now well established in this country that a referendum is the appropriate means of deciding major constitutional issues. For example, the various devolution programmes of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all required the popular assent of the people in referendums.
Indeed recently the people of Wales had another referendum on proposed modest extensions of the devolved powers of their assembly and executive. In May the proposal to change the voting system for general elections is also to be put to the people in a referendum and both sides in that dusty debate are presently doing what Willie Whitelaw once memorably described as “going around the country stirring up apathy”.
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