In early 2013, the Prime Minister committed to an In/Out referendum. The people would decide whether the UK should remain a member of the EU, or leave. The referendum was to take place before 2017. Last month, the Prime Minister announced that he had secured a deal which reformed the UK/EU relationship sufficiently for him to recommend that the UK remain a member, and announced that the referendum would be held on June 23rd.
Unusually, the Government is committed to 'Remain' while Conservative MPs, including Ministers and Cabinet members are free to campaign to 'Leave'. It is inevitably going to be a feisty debate. Feelings are running high, especially but not exclusively in my party. Most MPs very quickly announced which way they were going to vote. I didn't. I decided I should discuss the issue with party members and constituents before declaring. I've held a private meeting with party members, and already have 2 public meetings with constituents arranged. My aim is to 'declare' at least 6 weeks before the vote.
At my meetings, I will make two admissions at the start. Firstly, that I have been a Eurosceptic since 1975, when I campaigned to leave the EEC - the last time we had a vote. I will also say that I am a great supporter of the Prime Minister, and am reluctant to do anything which undermines his position. You can immediately see why I am conflicted. So far I have only once defied a 3 line whip, and that was to abstain. Admittedly if was an important vote, and I was summoned to meet the Cheif Whip!! Whenever I've told the whips that I could not support the Gov't, the whip has been dropped to a 1 line whip, which is, in effect a free vote. This is the position in respect of the Referendum.
It has surprised me that some constituents have criticised me for not declaring my position as soon as the referendum date was set. It seems more sensible to me to carefully consider the issue, listen to the arguments and discuss the issue with those whose support made me an MP. It just depends how you look at it. My view is that it's a referendum of the people, and my vote is of no greater value than anyone else.
So that's the position. I will remain 'undeclared' until after the Assembly Election. By then, I would not expect anyone to be much interested!