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Does Britain need a referendum on its future in Europe?

June 8th, 2012

A letter to the Times which was published on Friday, June 8th 2012.

Lord Owen’s assertion that the British people should be given a direct say in our future relationship with the European Union by way of a referendum is dead right, but the choices posed by the question must be options which are in the British Government’s power to enact (report, June 7). His question 1 – “Do you want the UK to be part of the single market in a wider European community?” – is both too vague and not something that this country can give effect to, involving as it does an unknown number of other countries which may or may not wish to be in Lord Owen’s outer circle.

The countries with which the UK would be associated under the Owen plan are all, with the exception of the Czech Republic, present and former members of the European Free Trade Area (Efta). Why invent another grouping? Britain cannot force the present four members of Efta to accept us back but informal soundings suggest that we would be welcome to rejoin. If the other former members also chose to rejoin Efta that would be fine by us but it would be their decision not ours.

The only choice, therefore, that can intelligibly be put before the British people is: “In or out of the EU?” There is no middle way, disagreable as this may be to the British political class with its addiction to fudge.