Sunday, 27 March 2011

Andrew Smith on EU referenda

On the 18th of March, for the first time, I wrote to my MP:
Dear Mr Smith,

I understand that you voted against a referendum on the Libson Treaty on 5 March 2008.

Could you point me to some speeches or articles explaining why you felt a referendum was inappropriate?

I would also like to understand your position on referenda in general. Under what circumstances do you feel that the people should be given the opportunity to express their views directly? Is it appropriate to hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote, for example?

Considering the fundamental changes in the nature of the EU since the EEC referendum of 1975, would you now support an In/Out referendum on our membership?
On the 21st of March I received this reply:
I had a lot of correspondence at the time in which I set out my reasons for not supporting a referendum on that particular Treaty. Essentially they came down to the point that the Treaty was not the same thing as the previously mooted and abandoned EU Constitution, but was largely a tidying-up measure, with some further provisions which were comparable to others which had been dealt with by Treaty and a Bill in Parliament rather than referendum (under successive governments).

On referenda in general, I think there is a good case for them where something of important constitutional significance is being determined. I do think a change in the voting system is an appropriate instance (though I would have preferred our being given a wider choice here - eg to include Single Transferable Vote - so we wouldn't be left with simply a choice between First Past the Post and Alternative Vote).

I am sympathetic in principle to our membership of the EU being subject to a further referendum at some point, given in particular it is now so long since the original one on the Common Market, and so much having changed since then.

Best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Smith MP

I replied later that day:
Dear Mr Smith,

Thank you for your response.

It is my understanding that the Lisbon Treaty is, in substance, very close the the EU Constitution, and I am aware of statements to that effect by Angela Merkel, Jose Zapatero, and Bertie Ahern. The move to qualified majority voting, the removal of national vetoes, and the new posts of European Council President and High Representative seem like far more than 'tidying-up'.

Nevertheless, I am pleased that you recognise the importance of referenda for issues of important constitutional significance. Like you, I am disappointed that we are being presented with a binary choice between FPTP and AV.

I am especially pleased that you are sympathetic, in principle, to a referendum on our EU membership. I am sure I would not be the only constituent who would be reassured by a public commitment from you on this point.

I am aware of at least two campaigns that would be keen to list your support:

Whatever you decide, I am grateful that you took the time to read my enquiry, and reply.
I don't expect a further response, but I was reassured to receive the initial one. It seems highly unlikely that Andrew Smith will change his views in response to my letter, but it's possible that enough people writing on the same lines can make a difference. We can but try.

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