Friday, 29 February 2008

UK Liberal leader calls for vote on EU membership

Nick Clegg, leader of the British Liberal Democrats, the UK’s third biggest political party, is calling for a referendum on the country’s EU membership, in a bid to end a “crazy” debate on Europe and on a new Lisbon treaty among British politicians.

He is planning to file an amendment this week to a Lisbon treaty bill currently before the British parliament, demanding an “in or out” referendum, UK papers have reported.

Mr Clegg argues that in the ongoing parliamentary discussion in Britain, “pro and anti, Europhile and Eurosceptics [are] trading blows about the Lisbon treaty in grand rhetoric that obscures the facts.”

“If you’re pro-European, like I am, you’re accused of being a sell-out. If you’re anti-European, like most of the Conservative party, you’re accused of being a headbanger,” Mr Clegg comments in UK daily the Guardian on Monday (25 February).

He argues Britain should finally decide – through a popular vote – if it wants to be in the European Union or not.

“Nobody in this country under the age of 51 has ever been asked that simple question. That includes half of all MPs. We’ve been signed up to Europe by default: two generations who have never had their say,” Mr Clegg points out.

However, his attempt is expected to fall on deaf ears in the UK’s parliament, as both the ruling Labour party and opposition Conservatives have previously rejected the idea.

Instead, the Conservatives are due to press for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty – as was previously planned for the EU constitution. They argue the new treaty is almost identical to the constitution that was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

The Labour government and the Liberal Democrats however argue the Lisbon treaty does not introduce constitutional changes for the UK and its links to the EU, and so there is no need for a popular poll on the issue.

By Lucia Kubosova
This article first appeared on EU Observer