Déjà vu all over again

Sir James Goldsmith

During the 1990s, the political debate about Europe in Britain was polluted by Sir James Goldsmith and his Referendum party.  (I have thought a lot about which verb to use in that previous sentence.)  The demand from Sir James was for a referendum on EU membership, and he ran a slate of candidates in the 1997 general election on that basis.

The cause of the pollution was the denial that the Referendum party was anti-European.  Oh no, they would say, we merely want a vote on the issue; we’ve got people from all sides of the debate on Europe as members.  But we could find only three out of hundreds of candidates who were actually in favour of EU membership; everyone else was opposed to it.  The truth was that it was an anti-European campaign intended to prevent Britain from taking a full part in the EU, and to some extent one can say that it succeeded.

We’ve got the same experience now.  The People’s Pledge campaign wants a referendum on EU membership and is trying to put pressure on candidates in the next general election to support it.  Oh no, it’s not an anti-European campaign; it’s got people from all sides of the debate on Europe as supporters.  But a quick look at its patrons and its staff reveals what the campaign really thinks.

And look at the arguments it uses to justify the case for a referendum, straight out of the anti-European script book.  (The European Movement has fisked them here.)

If opponents of British membership of the EU want to campaign against it, then fine.  But they should be open about what they are doing.  Sir James Goldsmith was not merely in favour of a referendum but was actually opposed to EU membership as such.  The People’s Pledge, similarly, is not really about a referendum at all.  It is an anti-European campaign, and should be understood on that basis.

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