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Sir Graham Watson on the EU referendum

March 4, 2016 12:07 PM

Following the announcement of the date for the referendum on the UK's membership of the EU (Thursday 23rd June), former Liberal Democrat MEP and former leader/president of ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), Sir Graham Watson, has commented on the issues, and why the LibDems will be making a positive case for us to remain in. Sir Graham says, "This past week has been a rollercoaster for David Cameron. He zigzagged across the EU trying to drum up support for the changes he sought to keep the UK in. He then spent hours at the summit trying to corral his colleagues into agreeing them. Most of our EU partners find the UK's demands for a renegotiation of the terms of membership deeply unhelpful. They are worried about contagion, i.e. that other countries may try to do the same, leading to further trouble and perhaps even a fraying of the EU itself. And they feel they need all hands to the pump at present to deal with the refugee challenge, the threat of islamic terrorism and the sharp fluctuations in bank share prices. But Cameron prevailed, and that should make the task of winning his referendum easier. Of course the Tory right have rubbished the deal. But to give Cameron his due, he has found answers to concerns that many of our fellow citizens share. These give him a fighting chance of seeing off the lunatics in the Tory Tea Party and keeping his party on the 'remain in the EU' track. And they should make our task of securing a vote to stay in Europe at least a little easier.

"I hope you will have seen that the StrongerIN campaign has finally kicked into motion. Splutteringly, in low gear, perhaps, but nonetheless now running. There was leafleting activity at railway stations on Friday evening and - in many places - street stalls on Saturday. There are more and more debates. I am criss-crossing the country speaking in debates against the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Daniel Hannan, the Tory souverainistes. Their main argument - and they are far more dangerous than UKIP - is that the UK no longer runs its own affairs. But the logic of their position should be that we also withdraw from NATO, which involves a far greater pooling of sovereignty than the EU. Unlike NATO, nothing in the EU Treaties can oblige Britain to go to war to defend another member! And as for pooling sovereignty in the EU to achieve common aims, even Mrs Thatcher recognised the need for this when she said in the 1975 referendum campaign 'some fears have been expressed that if Britain joins the Common Market she will cease to be able to formulate her own foreign policy and will lose her separate identity. Looking at the European Community at present, it does not appear that its separate members have lost either their identity or their sovereignty. Most people when they talk of sovereignty mean the effective control over the destiny of the nation by Parliament. But today we have entered into many Treaties and military alliances which limit our freedom of individual action. More and more we are becoming dependent for our future, on action in concert with other nations.' The case for continued membership is still being made mainly in negative terms ('the sky will fall in if we pull out', etc), to which the anti Europeans have glib but well rehearsed and superficially-credible answers. It is also too business-based. But this is where Liberal Democrats come in. We need to craft a citizens' narrative around cleaner air, water and soil; safer consumer products like children's toys; greater legal certainty and recourse to justice in online transactions; obligations on transport providers to recompense passengers delivered late, etc. And, hell why not, the opportunity to live in peace and democracy under the rule of law and the combined strength to promote those values abroad! We also need to counter the lies about corruption in Brussels. Partly by pointing out that if it were corrupt, Germany would be the first to sort it out! Then by explaining patiently how the European Court of Auditors was unable, for some ten years, to sign off the accounts for regional and social funds because the Treaties did not give them the power to force national governments to disclose how the money had been spent (whereas for farm and fishing grants it did). The whole matter was resolved some six or seven years go and the accounts have been duly signed off every year since. I will be in Gastard (N Wilts) on 25th Feb, in Bristol and in N Somerset on 26th, in Lyme Regis on 1st March, in Cambridge on 5th March, Manchester on 7th and 8th, and Plymouth on 11th March. But I hope to write again before then."