Lib Dems call for referendum on EU future

Britain’s membership of the EU should be put to a nationwide referendum, the Liberal Democrats argued today.

The Lib Dems have said they will table a parliamentary amendment calling for a public vote on Britain’s membership of the EU.

It follows their decision to abstain from calls for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, insisting this is a distraction from the wider issues.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said: “The debate over Britain’s future in Europe has been poisoned for too long by a Labour party that refuses to make the case for it, and an opportunistic Tory party that actively seeks to undermine it.

“We need to draw the poison from that debate – to settle the matter one way or another.”

Insisting it would be “madness” to leave the EU – and discount the “50 years of peace and prosperity” it has brought -Mr Clegg called on pro-European MPs to make the case for Europe.

The Lib Dems are expected to table the amendment tomorrow and are hoping for support from across the parliamentary benches.

In a speech today, Mr Clegg accepted the government’s argument that the Lisbon Treaty, currently being debated in parliament, is only an amending treaty and does not need to be put to a public vote.

But he argued people did need a “real choice” on how the union has developed over the past 30 years, including being offered a say on whether Britain should stay in the EU.

Mr Clegg said: “A vote on the Lisbon treaty would not allow the public to have their say on the Single European Act, or the Maastricht treaty or Nice or Amsterdam or any of the other treaties that have been ratified since the last referendum on the EU over 30 years ago.

“Gordon Brown cannot ignore the rightful demand of the British people to have their say on Europe.”

He said the Conservative position, which advocates a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, was characterised by a “strange self loathing,” with the party never having reconciled itself to the role they played in creating the EU they now “detest”.