LibDems show up on match day with the wrong-shaped ball – by Greg Hands MP

portrait-greghands2.jpgFor once, the LibDems have the chance to make a difference, but they have blown it. That was the verdict in Westminster yesterday after their petulant storming out of the Government’s ongoing debate on the Lisbon Treaty, a.k.a. European Constitution, after the Speaker ruled that they will have to debate whether there is a referendum on the Treaty, and not a referendum on whether we are in or out of the E.U.

The Speaker had already made the same ruling during the debate on the Second Reading in January. Normally, there aren’t more than a couple of LibDems in the Commons Chamber, but yesterday, suddenly, there were 40 of them, simply for the purpose of storming out.

They are becoming like a football team which insists on showing up for the big match with a rugby ball.

I have previously blogged about the inexplicable LibDem policy on a referendum (http://conservativehome.blogs.com/centreright/2008/01/bizarre-new-lib.html) . They say they want a vote on Britain’s EU membership. At the same time, they say they don’t want a vote on the Treaty, as this would effectively become a vote on “in or out” – which is the referendum they say they wanted in the first place. Many LibDem activists are blogging that the policy makes no sense.

There are two very odd things about this. First, opposition parties shouldn’t get themselves tied up like this, most of all the LibDems who never have any realistic prospect of having to put their policies into action in Government. Second, this is actually the one time where thanks to all the other opposition parties (including the SNP and the DUP) and to a large number of Labour rebels, the Government could actually be defeated on having a referendum on the Treaty.

Today is the national lobby of Parliament by the I Want a Referendum (IWAR) campaign, where I am delighted to be on their advisory group. It is hard to say whether the LibDems will show up to this, or maybe orchestrate a walk-out, as if we were back at the Student Union. Either way, I wish IWAR well in their lobby today.

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