Open Europe Blog


We confess that we are getting a touch of whiplash trying to keep up with the Lib Dems’ constant to-ing and fro-ing over their position on a referendum on the ‘EU question’.

As you might remember, the Lib Dems backed a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in their 2005 manifesto, only to abandon that commitment (by abstaining with characteristic decisiveness) and teaming up with Labour to block a referendum when the Treaty went through Parliament in 2008.

They then said they were in favour of an ‘in-or-out referendum’, but Lib Dems in the Lords again abstained from voting for such a referendum when an amendment to that effect was put down.

Then in December last year, former leader Sir Menzies Campbell voiced yet another position saying that there was “no public appetite” for an in-or-out vote on the EU since the Lisbon Treaty was now ratified.

Now we see, in a debate in the House of Commons last night, Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Spokesman Ed Davey saying: “Liberal Democrats support a referendum on Europe, but on Britain’s membership of the EU and not on the legalese of any specific treaty. We believe that the British people want to be able to answer the in-out question, and that that is the sort of constitutional issue that is best put in a referendum”.

Parties should be free to change their minds when they have a genuine change of heart but the Lib Dem’s flip-flopping on this issue smacks of complete incoherence and more than a whiff of political opportunism. Perhaps Sir Menzies hit it on the nose when he said that they have no interest in a referendum of any kind.

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