Its being claimed by some that the 81 Conservatives who voted for the motion to hold a three way preferendum on the UKs relationship with the EU have succeeded in changing Government policy - and that a more Euro sceptic Government will result. This is an ruse to justify last Monday's bungled attempt to pressurise the Government into an In/Out referendum. What a lot more than 81 Conservatives agree about is that we want priority on changing Government's approach to the EU. I voted against the motion because it was so badly drafted that it divided Euro sceptic opinion, and prevented the House of Commons approving a motion demanding the return of powers to the UK Parliament. I much approved of the holding of a debate, the very holding of which did make a difference. But it should not have included a commitment to a withdrawal option. This ensured that party managers could not, and very properly did not, allow a 'free vote'. Withdrawal from the EU is not the policy of any mainstream party. I decided to vote against immediately I saw the motion, and would have voted against if it had been a 'free vote'. Its not the 81 Conservatives that 'rebelled', but them and the rest of us together who have made it clear we need to see a genuine drive to repatriate powers from the EU back to British parliaments.
But Monday's debate has done less harm than I thought it would. Despite the motion being overwhelmingly defeated, its clear to Government that a majority on MPs want a change of approach to our relationship with the EU. Next time there's a motion on the issue, the wording will be thought through more carefully, and we will probably end up with a majority calling for a cultural shift in the relationship. We want the EU to stop taking responsibility for matters that do not need to be taken at a European level,
Of course, the matter could be taken out of the hands of the current Government by the financial crisis that still faces the Eurozone. There may well be a proposal of significance in how the EU is governed which inevitably triggers a referendum in the UK. And if its on any question which does not involve actual withdrawal, I believe the voters will vote No. Whatever, I certainly do not think that we have seen the last of parliamentary debate involving the EU in this Parliament.