What's the real reason to hold an EU referendum?


What's a Europe referendum for? Does that sound like a silly question?

Surely, you might say, it's obvious that a referendum is for giving the public a say on Britain's future in Europe.

Well, no, actually.

Some want a referendum because they think the people will do what no mainstream political leader dare - get us out.

Others - who want the UK to stay in Europe - want a vote to put pressure on Europe's politicians to give the UK what it wants.

Many Eurosceptics - both those who want to stay in and those who would sooner get out - believe it will put pressure on a British government to negotiate harder.

Most Tories hope that, whatever the vote is on, the promise of a referendum will help them see off UKIP.

A growing number of Conservatives believe, as Harold Wilson did in 1975, that a referendum is the only way of stopping their party splitting on the issue of Europe.

Very few, in my experience, simply want to know what the public thinks.

PS David Cameron and Liam Fox appear to be contemplating the same sort of referendum - a post renegotiation poll. What separates them is that the prime minister is clear that Britain needs to stay in whereas his former defence secretary is now ready to contemplate getting out. That's the divide that really matters.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    21.Why exactly
    15 Minutes ago
    We are all sovereign We lend that sovereignty to our state because we want its protection


    I don't want the states protection. And don't want to lend it my soveriegnty.

    How do I go about getting it back?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    3. Alan Jackson

    Unfortunately, the publics view of politicians, trust and engagement with the political process is at an all time low, with no sign of any improvement either soon or long term.

    The question of basis of EU membership and the effects on the country are too important to be left to politicans in my view.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    re#8 egglestn
    ' ..//..is to mis-serve and then F U D will follow.'
    ~ ~ ~
    Please explain F U D.

    Does not Europe's current problem & the lack of solution to it stem - in part - from the lack of democracy that the institution is founded on as a whole. It paralyses the national leaders when dealing with the Euro crises.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    We are all sovereign We lend that sovereignty to our state because we want its protection When that state "drips" that sovereignty away to another organisation we have the right to ask why If no answers or we want the drip to stop we have the right to say so This is about us as people having a say in the running of our affairs Royal Commission preferred to get facts out I would add WE must decide!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    There will be a fairly even split between those who get something out of the EU, the devolved administrations and the poorer bits of England plus the farmers (without the single farm payment most would be bust), and those who think they don't, xenophobes everywhere who resent giving anything to Brussels and don't like unrestricted EU immigration. Close call I'd say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    To be honest we should have the power to call for a vote on how our local mp's are doing at least every year and if we find them failing us we should be able to replace them with in 2 months of the referendum this may make them sit up and take notice of us if they know they did not have a 4 or 5 year term and there performance could be reviewed at any time

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Who is going to be honest about this referendum in the pros and cons for our votes as both sides will twist every thing to fit there case for YES or NO
    It is common practic in a referendum to twist the information you give people and any way they all have there own agenda's for getting to vote one way or the other As any one seen a politician or the media tell us the whole truth 100% of the time

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    With more powers going to Brussels and more powers going to Edinburgh, no wonder that nice Mr Cameron is worried:


  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    A rather feeble & (invert?) elitist view of British politics, I think, Alan. It is also one that enables specific interest groups, even individuals, to hi-jack the 'system'.

    We have a very old Parliament which is edging its way to democratic representation over hundreds of years. MPs increasingly need to be reminded they are elected to, Parliament to represent our views & wishes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    3 Alan Jackson
    It would be wonderful if your observation that we should leave the government to get on with the job were valid. Because then we would have sufficient nuclear power, runways and new generation railways.
    Regrettably, NIMBYs and other special interest groups exist.
    And politicians repeatedly prove that they are self serving and do not have the country's best interests at heart.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The suggestion of a referendum is not the same as having one.
    DC needs to spout this because the knives are out for him + it may help in diverting the public rage from the antics of the bankers and his own lack of decisive action to bring them to account.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    If I was initiating the referendum at Cabinet level, the reason would be to give the UK's involvement with, and commitment to, the EU and/or Euro some democratic legitimacy.

    (Yes, I am aware of the flaws in referendums, the difficulties, and so on.)

    Regular readers here may remember I have been advocating EU-wide referendums as a way out of the present mire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Other than the merits or otherwise of a referendum on the EU, I think the real story here is Liam Fox & his attempt to position himself as a figure-head on the Right of the party. Is it that he harbours leadership ambitions? Or simply as a big-hitter to win concessions from Cameron, regarding Europe but also other areas of policy? I would say it'd have to be the latter- but then I'm not Liam Fox!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Who in the UK will have the time to read very thing on the EU to make a proper choice or will we have to trust what the yes campaign say or the no campaign say as both sides will have there own reasons for getting us to vote one way or the other. As any government and press since we have joined the EU have only told us about the parts of the EU they think we need to know about never the full story

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Is the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party attempting to force Cameron into a Major style back me or sack me leadership campaign on the issue ? Hoping either he offers a referendum to preserve unity in the party or a contender e.g. Fox, makes explicity one will happen were they to be leader/PM?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Developments in the Euro Zone and the large membership of the so-called fiscal pact will force the issue of a referendum on the government. There will not be a do nothing option. What Cameron is doing is trying to fight the next general election now as if there is no Coalition on a very right wing programme because that is his natural political home land but this may 'prematurely' destroy the Govt

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I must reinforce what Alanjackson #3 said, This debate is about membership of the EU, and that is a remarkably complex issue. To simply reduce it to a "Land of Hope & Glory" debate is to mis-serve and then F U D will follow. The UK (IMHO) is better off in the EU, (as Scotland is better off within the EU). I fail to see what the problem with closer integration is, economicly Big is often beautiful

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    The reason it matters is because the last time the public were given a chance to take part in a referenda on the subject was back in the 70s. The EFTA/EEC has changed absolutely since then. And, none of us, outside of recent general elections with UKIP's emergence have had any opportunity since, despite being promised them by both main parties who then ratted on the deal when they were elected.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    A referendum is suggested every time a government gets in to trouble but once they have got reelected they suddenly forget all about it
    saying it not the right time now to have referendum
    And if they give us a referendum the question will be screwed in such away that it will not make no difference on result as they have both wings of the party to appeases

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    We voted for the EEC, a trading bloc

    We are still waiting for a vote on the EU which is a completely different animal


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