UK Politics

Tory Daniel Hannan calls for 'in or out' EU referendum

Daniel Hannan
Image caption Daniel Hannan: There's more demand for referendum on EU membership than on AV voting

A Tory Euro MP has called for a referendum on whether the UK should stay in the European Union, describing it as a "major" constitutional issue.

Daniel Hannan said this had been "repeatedly promised" by several prime ministers but never delivered.

The decision by MPs on Monday to hold a referendum on UK electoral reform strengthened his case, he added.

The coalition government has promised "no further transfer of sovereignty" to the EU during this parliament.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have also agreed that any proposed future treaty to increase Brussels' powers would be subject to a referendum and that ministers would bring in a Sovereignty Bill to ensure that "ultimate authority remains with Parliament".

But Mr Hannan, an MEP for South East England, said incremental changes since the UK joined the Common Market in 1972 had been so thorough that a repeat of the previous "in or out" referendum, held in 1975, was necessary.

'More demand'

He said: "The EU doesn't just bound forward in great treaties. It's confidently moving forward every day.

"I think there's an awful lot more demand for a referendum on EU membership than there is for a referendum on the voting system."

All three main parties promised at the 2005 general election to hold a referendum on the planned European Constitution, but this was thrown out by Dutch and French voters before a public vote could take place in the UK.

The constitution was replaced by the Lisbon Treaty, on which Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown said there was no need for a public vote as its reforms were less constitutionally fundamental than those contained in its predecessor.

The treaty created a permanent EU president, a legal personality for the union and a high representative for foreign affairs, while also reducing the number of commissioners to streamline procedures in an enlarged EU of 27 states.

The largely pro-European Liberal Democrats promised an "in or out" referendum on EU membership in 2007, but dropped the idea after the Lisbon Treaty was ratified by Parliament in 2008, arguing there was no longer a "public appetite" for such a vote.

The Conservatives continued to promise a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, once it replaced the EU Constitution, but leader David Cameron ended this commitment after its ratification by all 27 EU member states was completed last year.

'Not indifferent'

Many on the eurosceptic wing of his party, including Mr Hannan, have continued to call for a referendum on the deeper question of whether the UK should leave the EU.

Mr Hannan told BBC Radio 4's Today: "This is an issue which ticks pretty much every box. It divides the parties. It's not the kind of issue you can settle easily at a general election.

"It's a matter of major constitutional significance and... we've been repeatedly promised a referendum on Europe by a number of different prime ministers. So I think on an issue of this magnitude, we need to settle it on a test of national will - a referendum."

He said there was "a rift between Parliament and people on this issue", with 45 to 50% of the public against EU membership and only 1% of MPs sharing this view.

Mr Hannan added: "Politicians are not indifferent to public opinion."

On Monday, MPs voted by a majority of 59 to hold a referendum on replacing the first-past-the-post system of Westminster elections with the "alternative vote" (AV) method.

This would mean second choices on ballot papers being taken into account if no single candidate won more than 50% of the vote in any constituency.

If the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill passes into law, a referendum on AV will be scheduled for 5 May next year.

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