Stewart Jackson on a National Referendum on the European Union

24th October, 2011, House of Commons

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con):It is a pleasure to rise to support the motion tonight. The House will know that I am not a “usual suspect”. Loyalty to the Conservative party runs through my veins, having been a member for 26 years. Those on the Front Bench will know that, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) had his problems with grammar schools in 2007, I supported him. I also stood shoulder to shoulder with my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) in 2001 when he was performing his historic role of saving our currency from the single currency that was being foisted on our country. He was traduced, lied about, ridiculed and attacked, and that was just by people in our own party. He was vindicated, however, and we have yet to hear a substantive apology from many of the people who advocated joining the single currency.

It is more in sorrow than in anger that I vote for the motion tonight, because I support the Government and the fantastic work that they are doing on schools reform, on welfare reform and on getting down the appalling deficit left by the previous Labour Government. So I need no lectures on loyalty from some people. I defer to the Foreign Secretary, but I regret the unfortunate rhetoric that he used this morning about parliamentary graffiti. If I may be cynical, I fear that it has been a long road to Damascus from Richmond, Yorkshire, but I hope that I am wrong about that.

I say to my colleagues that we can have a proper, mature debate on the future. This is not like the theological, semi-religious schisms of the 1990s. There is a settled Eurosceptic consensus in our party, and we now need to think about where we are going and how we are going to get there. The motion is helpful. It would have given the Prime Minister the wind behind his back. It is flexible, and it does not seek to fetter discretion. It is most certainly not a “better off out” motion. We could have had a well-informed, reasonable debate between the respective positions.

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful, personal statement to the House on his position on the motion. Does he agree that the public want to see less Europe and more Britain, and that the only way to achieve that is through supporting the motion and giving the British public a democratic vote on our future relationship with the EU?

Mr Jackson: I could not have put it better myself.

Hon. Members have made the point that a person has to be over 54 years of age to have had the opportunity to take part in a plebiscite on our future in Europe. If we can have a referendum on fiscal powers for Wales, on the north-east Assembly, on Scotland, Northern Ireland, Greater London government and other issues, why can we not have one on one of the most important philosophical differences about our approach to the European Union in a whole generation? It is not right.

Nadine Dorries: We have heard many Members say this evening that now is not the right time. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a disingenuous argument because this motion does not impose a referendum now, but at some time in the future. Those hon. Members who say that now is not the right time are, as I say, being incredibly disingenuous about the motion.

Mr Jackson: Absolutely; I agree with my hon. Friend. When is the right time? Net contributions of £9 billion are not loose change in our politics. We are on the cusp of a potentially new, more deeply integrationist treaty and an irreversible hard EU monetary union with profound ramifications for the future of this country, particularly for the City of London.

I have to say to the Foreign Secretary, who is now on his flight to Canberra, that he once described the euro as

“a burning building with no exits”,

but he seems happy now to provide new mortice locks for the windows and the doors.

The House of Commons should be allowed a free vote and an unfettered debate on this issue. The Government have no mandate to whip the vote as they have this evening. No one has a mandate since all the parties effectively reneged on the Lisbon treaty prior to the last general election. I have to say, as a former Whip, that this has been a catastrophic mismanagement for my party. We should have been able to show to our people that we were mature and that although we had logical differences, we would respect each other so that the integrity of Parliament would have been improved as a result. Instead, we have had the heavy-handed whipping that we have seen tonight.

We can no longer exclude the people of this country—in the era of Twitter, Facebook and the internet—from the decision-making processes. We cannot infantilise them and make them look foolish as if only we, with the political elite and the plutocratic, bureaucratic elite of Europe, know what we are doing and they are too stupid to understand because they are the little people. It will not do any longer. The people’s voice will be heard.

I gave my maiden speech in June 2005. I said then that

“all political power is merely a leasehold held on trust and…it can be removed at any time. The people of Peterborough put their trust in me…I promised not to let them down”.—[Official Report, 6 June 2005; Vol. 434, c. 1078.]

It is a leasehold; we cannot sell the freehold of our birthright, our democracy and the freedom of our country.

I have no intention of breaking the bond of trust I made with my constituents in Peterborough. If we cannot debate the biggest constitutional issue of our generation here in the very cockpit of democracy in the House of Commons, why are we here? That would make manifestos a sham and elections meaningless. For me, constituency and country must come before the baubles of ministerial office. I will keep that faith with my constituents and, with a heavy heart, I will vote for the motion and take the consequences.