Let the people decide
Nigel Farage MEP
Daniel Hannan MEP
Speech by Nigel Farage, MEP
Ask yourselves: just how successful have the Electoral Commission been in cleaning up British politics? Well, rather than taking my word for it you can take the word of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, who reported in January this year, where they condemned the Electoral Commission for having achieved very little. They pointed out that the cash for honours scandal had passed by without the Electoral Commission lifting a finger. They pointed out that with the introduction of postal voting well, we have always had postal voting, haven't we, but not this kind of postal voting they pointed out that the scandals in postal voting had happened since the Electoral Commission had come into being, and nothing had been done about it.
What they didn't point out, but I think the point is worthy of mention, is the fact that our friends, the Liberal Democrats, received £2.4 million from a man who was living overseas, who has subsequently been in prison for fraud, and who gave the money to the Liberal Democrats through a UK limited company that was not actively trading in the UK at the time a total and utter breach of the Act, and yet the Electoral Commission did nothing. What they have decided to do is they have decided to kick the smallest boy in the playground, to take UKIP to court for the forfeiture of £367,000, because our pre donor, a retired bookmaker from Broadstairs and you can tell, ladies and gentlemen, from his sports jackets that he was a bookmaker, there's no question about it -- Alan, who clearly is not foreign and most certainly is not anonymous, was on the electoral role in 2003 when he first gave us money, was on the electoral role in 2004 when he gave us money, was on the electoral role in 2006 and 2007, but because of a simple oversight, he wasn't on the electoral role in 2005. Because of that, we have just spent the whole of the last three days in the Horseferry Road Magistrates' Court, with us defending our position and with the Treasury Solicitor, as the I would call him sort of Orwellian, perhaps almost Stalinist Chief Prosecutor, and we shall find out on 7th August whether we have won or lost our place.
But the point I'm really trying to make to you is not a UKIP point but it's a point about what's going on in British politics. If they are allowed to get away, in the very week when the cash for honours scandal has been swept under the carpet, and with the knowledge there will be not a single prosecution, if they are allowed to effectively bankrupt our little party, then what would have happened if the three main pro EU parties their position will be in French and the possibility and the opportunity for any new fresh political party to emerge in this country will effectively be gone for ever. It will be an absolute travesty of democracy if we lose this case.
But worst of all isn't what is going to happen to us, it isn't even what is going to happen to new potential small parties. Worst of all is, they are going to do what they have done in France, where they have huge scandals. One or two of you may remember that the French Commissioner, Monsieur Jacques Barrot, was and I'm reminded the European Parliament on this weren't terribly keen on the whole thing, but never mind. Even French Commissioner Barrot found himself embroiled in the scandal in 2000. He was convicted of his part in an embezzlement case and given a suspended prison sentence.
But what the French did was, they absolved everybody. They said, "Mr Chairman, no problem. We will get rid of all of this and what we will do in future, we will fund political parties through taxpayers' money." That's what the French have done and that is what is going to happen in this country. Nobody will go to prison over cash for honours. Nothing will happen over the £2.4 million that the LibDems took from the man who is now there for many, many years in a Florida jail, and regardless of what happens to us, the taxpayer will bail out the big debts. And they are big debts. They are up to £30 million in the case of the Labour Party debts. The taxpayer will bail out those debts and will carry on in future with the taxpayer keeping in place the very people who I believe, and I'm sure the majority of you in the Bruges Group believe, have effectively, over the course of the last 35 years, betrayed this country, given away our birthright, signed us up to the European monster that means that we ourselves no longer are the masters of our own destiny.
Thank you, Mr Chairman for allowing me to get that off my chest. I have been sitting here with all this pent up anger over the last three days. It really has been like living through some sort of Orwellian nightmare, where we have been painted out to be the villains of the piece.
We have come to a very odd stage, I think, in the history of our country, because we already are in a position where it is virtually irrelevant irrelevant who wins the next general election. Already 75% of our laws aren't made by the British Prime Minister, decided in Cabinet, voted through Parliament. None of that matters any more. All of that has been surrendered. All of that has been given away. We are just left with about 25% of our own law making ability, and we have before us a treaty which I don't think any serious academic could doubt impinges significantly on the 25% that we have left.
The argument surely is that we, the people, should decide whether we are to govern ourselves in our own democracy from Westminster, or whether these things are to be done for us within the European Union. That in itself should be a big enough argument, shouldn't it, for us to have a free and fair open referendum?
But there's a bigger, stronger, moral claim that I believe we have, and it is this: confidence in politics has collapsed, hasn't it, over the last 20 years, and confidence in politicians has collapsed over the last 20 years. It's no surprise, is it, really? I mean, not only is it irrelevant who wins the next election, but (with the odd honourable exception such as Daniel Hannan) I find it quite difficult to tell them apart. I can't tell, of the people who have spoken on the Today programme, who is from the Labour Party, who is from the Tory party, or God help us, who is from the LibDems. I literally can't tell them apart. They look the same, they sound the same, they stand on the same policies, and they are all perfectly happy that 75 per cent of our laws are made somewhere else. That's the situation that we have come to.
But the argument, I think the key argument that we have to use, the moral argument, is that this government won the last general election with an absolutely explicit promise to give the British people a referendum on the EU constitution. It is the best card we have got, isn't it? It's the very best card that we have got. But now, of course, we have a situation which to newcomers to the scene may appear bizarre. To more seasoned I find it difficult to call myself a 'veteran' but I virtually am but to more seasoned observers it's the usual position, isn't it, where whatever one thinks of the leaders of other European countries, at least they have one huge merit that puts them, as far as I am concerned, on a pedestal compared to British politicians. When it comes to talking about the European Union, when it comes to telling us what it's about and where it wants to go, at least they tell the truth, don't they? I mean Giscard d'Estaing never, whatever one thinks of him ¯ I mean, some people think he is a terribly pompous, arrogant, Frenchman. It doesn't matter does it, really? At least he is honest. At least he said from the start that the constitution was about turning the European Union into a global superpower. Now, that may be a proposition that you support and agree with, it may be a proposition that you oppose as bitterly and strongly as I do. But at least there is a degree of honesty about that.
What is extraordinary is to say that we have the EU constitution, we have the French referendum ¯ and what a wonderful night in Paris that was. The French vote no, despite the fact that virtually the whole apparatus of state was engaged to make them vote yes. We have the Dutch: an even bigger rejection of it, yet despite that, of course, that wasn't going to stop the EU federalists, was it? In fact nothing, in my opinion, will stop the EU superstate fanatics, because what we are up against here now is a new phenomenon. It is a new type of extreme nationalism. It is Euro nationalism and it literally will stop at nothing until it has created this EU superstate. It makes me laugh, really, when they call us the extremists, when they call us the nationalists. All we are asking for is the right to retain our identity and the ability to be the masters of our own destiny through the ballot box. That's how extreme we are. We are really rather moderate, aren't we? We should be ashamed of ourselves. We have got to get a bit tougher, in my opinion.
So that's what we are up against. We are up against this extreme form of Euro nationalism. So they have come back with this new European treaty, and all they have done is they have dropped one or two symbols, which are frankly meaningless because they had dropped them already. The idea that they have dropped the European flag, you know, when you have seen it all over the place already. The idea they have dropped the anthem when everybody knows what it is ¯ I mean, that's all nonsense. All they have done is they have dropped the C word, haven't they? You know, just as Mr Major thought the British would find the F word offensive, so he dropped that at the time of Maastricht. This time the C word has been dropped. But we now have 12 heads of state (that I have managed to count, and perhaps there are more) who are all saying, "We have kept the substance of the constitution and we have just changed the terminology". You know, Bertie Ahern said they kept 90% of the constitution, Jean Luc Dehaene said they had kept 95% of the constitution, and Open Europe, in their rather brilliant analysis that was published (and it really was a very brilliant analysis. Anyone in this room who has not seen jolly well should) says that they kept 96% of the constitution.
Whichever way you look at it, we have a strong, powerful, moral case to put to the Labour government, but because just a few per cent of what was there originally has been dropped, it is essentially the same document and there must be a referendum.
And yet, what do we have? We have the Europe minister, Murphy, blabbering on that somehow this is only an amending treaty. Well, yes, in a sense he is right. All it is, it is a treaty that amends the European constitution, isn't it? It is not as if it is something fundamental and new. The argument that David Miliband put, that all the constitutional elements of this treaty have been dropped, runs in direct contravention to what 12 heads of state are saying, to what the European Commission is saying, and of course to what the Commission President is saying. I think he really, above all, has let the cat out of the bag, hasn't he? He has said that the European Union is a new "empire". I wish we had people in Westminster who spoke like that. I wish they had spoken like that back in the early '70s. We wouldn't all be in this room tonight, would we, because the British people, if they had known the truth back in 1975, in that referendum, would have kicked the whole project into touch.
There's no point in being too nice or being too polite about it. We have a British government once again, and it seems to me it doesn't matter, if you look back to the early 1970s, whether they are elected with red rosettes or blue rosettes. We have a British government today doing exactly what all the previous British governments have done: they are telling us a pack of lies, ladies and gentlemen. That's what it is.
So what are we to do? Well, there are lots of ideas and lots of initiatives out there. Goodness knows how many petitions have been started. I have one on the Downing Street website. I'm one of four, I think. We have the Daily Telegraph with a petition, the Sun with a petition. I have no doubt the Mail at some point will have a petition. At this stage my advice to people would be to sign as many of these petitions as you possibly can, and what will happen, in my view, is that one of those petitions will emerge as the front runner. As soon as we see the front runner, then the obvious thing to do is to gather all our forces, give up our own ideas and back the front runner.
Equally, there are other ideas. There are one or two ideas floating around about having a big rally and a big demonstration in London. I took part, myself, in the Countryside Alliance march with Mr Booker, who is in the room here: 407,000 people. The fact that it was ignored doesn't mean that we shouldn't try. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't try. And again, I'm open to any idea about having a big march, about having a big rally, but we have to make sure we have the right march and the right rally and the right level of organisation.
But I also think, and it is particular important with a group like this tonight, where I know the vast majority of people on this room will either be Conservative Party or perhaps one or two UKIPs and maybe one or two others ¯ I doubt there are many trade union activists in this room tonight, but we mustn't forget the trade union, must we, because you know where the real pressure needs to be: it's on the Labour MPs, isn't it? If we are actually going to get a referendum in this country, it will be the Government fearing that it loses votes at the next general election. That was the tactic that the late great Jimmy Goldsmith employed. And thank God for Jimmy Goldsmith. If it hadn't been for him, we would have joined the Euro in '99.
So that's one way that we can exert pressure: the fear of the government losing votes to other parties. But the other (and perhaps in the short term most effective) way is the fear that enough Labour back benchers are prepared to put down a referendum amendment when this treaty comes before the House of Commons. That, to me, in the short term is the most likely way that we would get a referendum.
Now, I'm very happy for my organisation to support marches, rallies, whatever it takes, but it is very very important that if we do these things we do not do it from purely a centre and a centre right position. We have to have you know, Brother Bob Crow. We have got to have the trade unionists, we have got to have those great people in the Labour party, and there are some very good people in the Labour party. You know, the Austin Mitchells, the Frank Fields, the Kate Hoeys. Goodness me, I couldn't care less what party people come from. I couldn't care less, frankly, when it comes to it, about my own party. My own party means nothing. My own private allegiance to you means nothing compared with us winning back the independence, the self government and the sovereignty of this nation. That is what really matters.
So we must do everything we can. We must back every sensible initiative that there is until we find the right formula. I would love to stand before you tonight and tell you "I have the formula". I haven't got it right at the moment, but I believe that it will emerge.
There is one last thing, Mr Chairman, I do want to say, and it is this: that whilst we will all get together and whilst we will all campaign and fight for a referendum on this new EU treaty, we have to remember one thing: the referendum that we get may not be if we are able to force Brown into giving us a referendum, he will know that if he gives us a referendum just on this treaty, it will be so easy to prove that it involves the transfer of further powers to Brussels, that he knows he will lose this referendum. He may feel if he is forced into a corner whereby he has to offer a referendum, that the only referendum on the European question that he and the government could possibly win would be a referendum not just on the issue of this treaty, but would be a referendum on our continued membership of the European Union.
Now, I know there are many who say this will be a disaster; that we mustn't frighten the horses, that the British public aren't ready for it yet. Well, that's not my experience of it. I think we have to be prepared for that question to come. I'm not trying to be divisive here. I'm not saying we shouldn't campaign for a referendum on this treaty. I would love to have a vote on this treaty. Goodness me, I'm one of 28 million voters who's never been given an opportunity to express an opinion on any aspect of our membership of the European Union. But be prepared, if there is a referendum, for the bigger question, and don't, ladies and gentlemen, be frightened of that bigger question.
You know, we have moved on an awfully long way, and there is one factor here that I believe has changed everything, and it is globalisation. It is perfectly clear that in terms of world trade what has happened over the course of the last decade is greater and more significant than what has happened in world trade over the last century. These new emerging economies and I'm talking about China, I'm talking about India. This is happening. There's no point burying our heads in the sand. There's no point pretending this isn't going on. There's no point trying to protect certain traditional industries.
My view has always been, with globalisation, we have to embrace it and we have to go with it, and that's one area in which we perhaps have a peculiar advantage in this country. Our whole commercial history has been a history that we have been a merchanting and a trading nation. It is why I believe the City of London is now the preeminent financial services marketplace in the world. There is a whole younger generation out there who view the European Union as being irrelevant, anachronistic and backwards. They are the ones who are embracing globalisation, aren't they? They are doing so in terms of the way in which they work. They are doing so in terms of the cultures that they adopt.
I think that in the age of globalisation, if Mr Brown felt his only possible way of winning a referendum was to give us a referendum on our continued membership, I am now confident that the City of London and the vast majority of British businesses that import and export would back the stance that we don't need to be members of a political union in order to go on doing business with French and German companies; that we are quite capable and quite competent of standing on our own two feet. If we do get, as I say, not the referendum that we are campaigning for but a different one, I think we must embrace that referendum with even more enthusiasm, because ultimately, even if we win a referendum on this constitution, and I believe we would, that would do no more than perhaps start a process whereby we begin to negotiate a new relationship.
As far as I'm concerned, the sooner we negotiate a relationship based on friendship and free trade, but on the absolute right and authority of the British people to be the masters of their own destiny through the ballot box, the better.
Speech by Daniel Hannan, MEP
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s fantastic to be here. I began, really, as a son of the Bruges Group. My earliest political affiliation was as a member of this organisation as a 17 year old undergraduate when it was founded. I took my first faltering steps as a 'Brugist', and I would like to begin by saluting the work that this organisation does: always advancing the debate, always planting the flag of intellectual discourse a little bit in the van of the advancing host.
The way in which the argument has been transformed since those early days when I became a Brugist in 1991 has been absolutely extraordinary, and that didn't happen by magic; it happened because of the hard work of people running organisations like this. Although they are very modest, I would like to take a moment to thank in a warm and heartfelt way the people who run this organisation, including Barry, and above all including Robert Oulds, who organised this evening's meeting. Robert, I should say, is also an Association Chairman of mine in the south east of England, where he does tremendous work, making sure that the views of the members of the Conservative Party are reflected upwards to its leadership, rather than just the other way around.
While I'm in the habit of embarrassing people, I'm going to mention one other person without his knowledge and consent. There is in this country a tiny number of patriotic people who keep afloat almost every decent cause that fights not only for an independent Britain but also for the concept of an independent citizen within the United Kingdom leading his life without interference from the State and without constantly badgering ministers for support. You find that it's the same names again and again who crop up as the donors and sponsors of these organisations. The outstanding name I don't say that patriotism is measured solely by a man's open handedness, but the outstanding name, and he's a very unassuming man who will be sitting there scowling at me I don't even dare look at him, but he is here tonight is Stuart Wheeler, without whom our cause would not be in the happy situation it is. Although he won't thank me for this because he is an immensely modest human being, I would like you also to express our thanks to him.
May I say also what a great venue this is. It is particularly well chosen because during the Second World War, when last we fought for an independent and self governing Britain, we never forgot that we were fighting also for the cause of nations everywhere. The constant refrain of allied propaganda at the time was that ours was “a battle for all free people", so many of the governments in exile were clustered along this little stretch of road. Indeed, just two doors along was De Gaulle's headquarters, what we recognised as the French government in exile. There is a small mannequin like statue of him just outside.
Now, this posed some difficulties for the General, because he tried to make it a point never, in all the time he spent in exile in London, to pass any monument that commemorated a British military victory over France. As you will have noticed, the main square here is called Waterloo Place, so he had to come a rather circuitous route in order to get into his office every day. I discovered to my delight, reading the memoires of Jock Colville, who had been Churchill's Private Secretary during the war, that Churchill had given private secret instructions that should he, Churchill, die during war, in other words while De Gaulle was still here, that the funeral cortege was to process past every one of these monuments that the General had so studiously avoided in his four years in London. But he, after all, was in his fashion fighting for a free and sovereign country, and it is therefore an appropriate thing that we should be meeting here.
I'm also going to go off piste, skiing in the little furrow that is left by Nigel's off piste foray, only to address the point he made about party funding, very briefly, to say this: there are hundreds of objections to the state funding of political parties, which I don't intend to rehearse now and which will be familiar to you, about the principle of making politicians empowered to demand things rather than forcing them to ask politely. All I would say is this: do not for a moment fall for the line that so many commentators seem to have gullibly taken in, that it is an antidote to corruption. Look at the empirical evidence. You don't have ask yourself this question academically. Look at the countries which are keenest on taxpayer funded political parties and which tend to be found on continental Europe rather than in the Anglo sphere. Look at France, which has a very high level of per capita funding for parties, where more than 1,000 elected representatives in the Chirac era were found guilty of political corruption. But France being France then pardoned, and indeed, as Nigel found out in the European Parliament, it is a criminal offence now even to draw attention to the fact of their conviction.
Look at Germany, where parties are preachers of the state and where the Kohl era ended in disgrace as the public found out about hidden slush funds and briefcases full of banknotes changing hands in car parks. Look, above all, at the countries which have become what psephologists call cartel democracies, the Austrias, the Italys, the Belgiums, the countries where parties have effectively been nationalised, where private donations have been squeezed out and where therefore it is impossible for a new entrant to break into the transcircle of ruling parties, which are in a kind of constant quadrille, waltzing back and forth, always more or less in coalition one with another.
The result of these systems is, I put it to you, to shield politicians from the consequences of their own unpopularity. They have a guarantee that they will be more or less permanently in office, regardless of how they behave. And this, at best, leads to a certain sense of insulation, a certain sense of smugness, as the political cast looks down at the rest of the world. At worst it leads to the kind of gargantuan corruption that has been seen in some of those countries.
So if you are a conservative, look away now. I was actually rather happy that there were no prosecutions following the cash for honours inquiry, because I think that the pressure for state-funded political parties might have become overpowering had charges followed. In its fashion, that investigation shows that our system works. There are not very many countries in Europe where charges against an encumbent Prime Minister would be pursued with such vigour and then dropped without rancour. We can all have our private views about the morality of how people behave. If there wasn't enough evidence to proceed, it seems to me quite proper that it should be a judicial rather than a political decision, and you can't imagine that being the case in all that many countries. So I'm very happy with our system, where we politicians are obliged to go cap in hand. It never does us any harm to remember that we should be the supplicants and the voters should be the boss.
Now I would like to talk about the reason we are here, the rally for a referendum. I need to begin in a way that some of you may find a little awkward, by doing this: join me, if you will, in a little thought experiment. Try to imagine that you are a dedicated European federalist. We keep on being told that no such person exists. A recurrent refrain of the rhetoric of Gordon Brown and Menzies Campbell and the rest of the Euro establishment is that nobody wants a superstate. Nobody is talking about this political union. It is a false creation proceeding from the heat oppressive brains of madmen like Farage and Hannon. All right, so just as a little exercise, pretend that there was such a person. If you were this putative Euro federalist, whom we keep on being told doesn't exist, what would you have wanted to secure at the recent Brussels summit? What attributes would you want the EU to take on in its present statehood that it doesn't already possess?
When we put a question like that, we realise of course how much it has already agglomerated. We see that the European Union has already acquired most of the trappings, most of the characteristics that are commonly associated with sovereign nations: its parliament, its flag, its anthem and all the rest of it. It has a National Day as well. Does anyone know what the Europe national holiday is? 9th May. I'm sure you all spend it in prayer and fasting. And of course, the anthem tragically shows that one of the most elevating and ennobling pieces of music, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, to which we are now in Brussels expected to stand to attention when it is played you may be crossing your fingers, but I'm afraid it has an effect on me rather similar to that which it has on Alex in A Clockwork Orange, for those who have read the book, and for the same reason, which is bad connotation. But let's say that you are this Euro fanatic whom everyone denies exists. What else does it need? You know, it has its driving licence, it has its currency, it has its external borders, it has its Supreme Court. What pieces of the jigsaw must still be slotted into place before the European Union can barely call itself a sovereign state?
I put it to you tonight, ladies and gentlemen, that there are four things that it would still have required: (1) a head of state; no country can call itself a sovereign state without a sovereign, a president or a monarch; (2) a foreign policy, including all the accoutrements and trappings of a common foreign political head, that is to say, a Foreign Minister, a credited diplomat, legations in third countries; (3) it may seem an 'anoraky' point, but a legally vital one. The European Union would need to have a legal personality of the sovereign state that would permit it to sign treaties, enter into relations with other states under the Montevideo Convention, and to sit in international associations as a sovereign state; (4) it would need its own system of criminal justice. Perhaps the supreme power which a government exercises over its citizens is the right of penal coercion under the rule of law.
Let me suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that this imagery federalist would therefore be feeling rather pleased with himself at the outcome of the recent Brussels summit, because there, as in the original sector of the continent, are all of these hitherto missing characteristics: the President of Europe, the European Foreign Minister, and it is not just the title of Foreign Minister we are objecting to, it's the creation of the diplomatic corps that sustains her, legal personality and a criminal justice system, complete with legal powers, ejective powers of the police force, Europol, and indeed a European Public Prosecutor.
I rehearse these points in order to make an important argument: this may not have been the referendum that we would ideally have chosen, but it does not follow from that that this doesn't matter. The changes that are being proposed in this constitution amount to shifting the balance away from the European Union as an association of states that draws its sovereignty upwards from its signatories, to being a European policy in its own right, drawing its legitimacy from its sovereign charter. It has been so long it was 2001 when they first planned this constitution, 2004 when they finalised it. Some of us, I suspect, have forgotten why we felt so strongly about this. We are in the position of a First World War soldier, circa 1917, who goes over the sandbags when he hears the whistle out of force of habit because he has forgotten what the original war was about. Well, it is worth looking at the contents of this constitution and seeing quite how much is being shifted from the national capital to Brussels.
Let me contextualise it with one statistic: we are often told that, "Ah, the real shift in power was made under Margaret Thatcher. It's ridiculous of these Conservatives now to be making such a fuss about these treaties when the single European Act created so many areas of QMV."
It is worth actually looking at the figures on this. In ten years in power, Margaret Thatcher shifted 30 areas from unanimity to qualified majority vote. In six years in power, John Major shifted about another 35. In this single proposed treaty, Gordon Brown will shift at least another 50. And these are not technical detailed minor wantish points. These have to do with serious central matters of government activity, ranging from policy, culture and sport through to immigration, justice and home affairs. Whatever else they are, they are not technical.
So I say, yes, in a perfect world I agree with Nigel that we should have a more purgatory referendum that would cover the whole of the basis of our relationship with the European Union. I have what the police call 'previous' on this. I'm a member of the Campaign for an Independent Britain; I'm a signatory of the Better Off Out campaign. I see at the back the Member of Parliament for Harwich, Douglas Carswell, a fellow signatory of Better Off Out, and also a long standing campaigner for British withdrawal from the European Union.
But that is not the referendum that has been offered us, and if we want to win on the question that will in fact be on the ballot paper, it has to be on the basis of a broad generous maximalist coalition, a coalition that comprises people who want to leave the EU, people who want to stay in the EU but want to take some powers back, people who want to go further but not in the way that is proposed in this constitution, and in the initial stages, people who support the constitution but still think we ought to have a referendum on it.
There is nothing to be gained by engaging in a kind of contest to demonstrate your Euro skeptic virility at this stage by saying, "Ah, yes, that's all very well, but unless you say that you want to leave and unless you are prepared to join the UK Conservatives, you are not really one of us." As Nigel correctly says, there are good people, patriotic people, in every party, people who feel just as strongly as we do, about the way in which powers are haemorrhaging from our elected representatives to unelected functionaries in Brussels.
And when one of them crosses the road and joins us in our campaign to let the people decide, we should not snarl at them. We shouldn't say, "Oh, that's all very well but look at how you have voted in the past", or "Oh, that's all very well, but the leader of your party said such and such". We should rather welcome him generously, because the only way we are going to win this is with the support of people on the right, on the left, in the centre, and above all, with the support of those 40% of our countrymen who have given up voting at all.
Why this issue? Why are we demanding a referendum on this constitution? Other than the obvious point that, like Barry Legg and like Douglas and like Nigel, I have asked for referendums on every treaty, in a way we have been consistent on this, as you in this room have. The difference is simply that we no longer have to make the case from first principles as to why there has to be a vote, because all the main parties have made that argument for us.
I made a little calculation as prep' for this meeting. There are 646 Members of Parliament. Of those 646, 638 were elected on the basis of a manifesto commitment to a referendum on the constitution. 98.8% of our MPs were elected on the promise that we ultimately would decide. It is not just the three main parties, it was the SNP, it was the Respect people, it was the Greens, it was Pride. Everybody. Even the Kidderminster Hospital guy. Everybody was in favour of a referendum.
So in a way it doesn't fall to us to have to make the argument about, well, we may be a parliamentary democracy but there are occasions when you need a plebiscite. That has already been conceded. The simple issue is, keep your word. Complexity is not our friend on this question. Once we get drawn into arguments about the justiciability of the charter of fundamental rights, we have lost. The simple argument is "give us what you promised".
I think it is possible to get it, because there is something unsustainable about this pretence that the European treaty is different in any substantive way from the European constitution. What we saw in Brussels last month was a kind of grizzly act of necromancy. Imagine, if you will, the 27 heads of government, like cowled figures in some Gothic horror, stretching out the corpse of the cold constitution on the laboratory table, and then jolting it with some electric machine into walking half life. What we have is exactly the same. In fact, just read the first paragraph of the conclusions of that summit, which say we are going to change the name, and then, other than that, go on as before but don't call it a constitution any more.
That is the real problem for the people who are denying us a referendum: they know that they won't be believed on this. You must have heard Gordon Brown's delightful slip of the tongue when he was making a joint press conference with Bertie Ahern, and he actually called it 'the constitution', and then corrected himself, "Oh, of course, it's not the constitution, it's the amended treaty."
The point is, we have now reached the stage where neither Gordon Brown, nor Sarcozy, nor the Dutch leader, nor any of these people, expect us to take their line any more. They are like Brezhnev era apparatchik, who just have to give a line, not in the expectation that anyone is going to fall for it, but because there has to be some official version.
I do not believe, ladies and gentlemen, that that is a sustainable position. Gordon Brown has come in as a new Prime Minister desperate to break with what is seen as the lies and broken promises of the old regime. The one where he does not want to begin is by a sustained breach of a manifesto commitment. There are opportunities, political, to get the vote that was promised. The government does not have an absolute majority in the upper house. There are, as Nigel correctly says, decent patriotic Labour MPs who may well feel bound by the manifesto on which they were returned to Parliament, especially if they are reminded by their constituents that this will help them secure their re election. Indeed, there may be an intervening general election between now and the entering into force of the constitution that would change the arithmetic of Parliament. So this is a battle that we can win.
Like Nigel, I would urge all of you to sign every referendum petition going. I think yours is called letthepeopledecide.co.uk. I got an email from my CID mate this very afternoon about it. The Daily Telegraph's is called telegraph.co.uk/eureferendum. Ours, I think, so far has the most.
Finally, if I was Gordon Brown and I thought that only 20,000 people bothered to sign these things, I would conclude that I had got away with it. Ladies and gentlemen, I would be right so to conclude, and we would have only ourselves to blame. If, as a country, we reach the view that we actually want this constitution, we vote for it, fine, you know well, not fine, but at least it would be democratic and I would accept the result and I would button my lip. I would not seek re election. I would retire like Cincinnatus to his plough and go and write books, and you wouldn't hear another peep about me. But it is not to anyone's credit that this thing should go through out of lethargy, out of apathy because people couldn't be bothered to stand up and express their view. It's a terrible comment on our generation if our fathers were prepared to defend with force of arms our right to live under our own laws and our own people in our own sovereign government, and we are not prepared to sign a petition for a referendum to keep the same freedoms that they defended.
So ultimately that's what this is about. This is about the defence of our birthright, our right to live under the people that we vote for and that we can kick out if we don't like how they perform. Our members of Parliament are not the owners of our liberties, they are the temporary and contingent stewards of our freedoms. We entrust them, for a limited term of up to five years, with the defence of British freedoms. If they want to make a permanent alienation in those powers for self government to a foreign body, they should have the decency to come and ask us first in a referendum. We should not go into this referendum campaign as supplicants. We are not asking for anything more than our rights and what was promised to us.
If being British is about anything, it is about the notion that freedom is our inheritance, all of us, by virtue of living in this country. It is not something that is given to us by human rights codes or by government statutes, so we shouldn't go cap in hand asking politicians, out of the kindness of their hearts, to keep the promise on which they were elected. We are asking for our birthright, our right as a people to live under our own laws.
In the words of our greatest poet, "Britain is a realm entire unto itself; and we will nothing pay for wearing our own noses."