Europhiles working to keep Britain within the EU must not be allowed to railroad discussions over an EU referendum onto questions of who would be eligible to vote in it, senior Tory MP John Redwood has warned.
Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Redwood, a prominent eurosceptic, has argued that as the EU referendum is simply a question of whether or not Britain should be self-governing, it makes perfect sense for the franchise to be the same as that of a normal general election.
“This is an important referendum on whether we stay in the European Union or find a better way from outside the treaties to trade with the member states, be friends with them and negotiate with them as most of the rest of the world does successfully. It is not a sideshow to a wider discussion about changing our normal voter list.
“During the election, I received little lobbying to allow 16-year-olds to vote and no lobbying to allow European Union migrants to vote here in national elections. There is no evidence that these things are wanted by many.”
Mr Redwood suggested that it makes little sense to allow recent EU migrants to vote on whether Britain should remain within the EU, given that they are clearly direct beneficiaries of British membership. He argues that at the centre of this debate is the way the UK acts as a job creator of last resort for the EU, provocatively adding “I often think Euro stands for European Unemployment and Recession Organisation, as it generates both.”
And he chastises “multinational business executives” who are pushing for a swift referendum, before any renegotiation or indeed in-depth campaigning has been allowed to take place, in order for Britian to remain within the Union and the question to be kicked into the long grass.
He added: “Other parts of the pro-EU movement now want to sidetrack the debate about the negotiations and terms of membership into a debate about who should vote in the referendum. This also looks like a way of undermining the process that is so crucial to the UK’s future.”
Over the weekend the Conservatives announced that EU foreign nationals living in the UK would be barred from voting in the referendum. The EU Referendum Bill, which will be announced later this week following the Queen’s Speech, will stipulate that only British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens who are resident in the UK, plus residents of Gibraltar and members of the House of Lords will be allowed to vote. Non-Commonwealth EU citizens living in the UK will not be eligible to take part.
Nigel Farage, who made much during the general election of the need for a fair referendum which included a bar on non-British nationals voting, welcomed the statement saying: “UKIP welcomes the plans for the EU referendum franchise which seems both sensible and reasonable. To have done anything different would have been absurd.
“The decision about the future of this country should be made by the people of this country, and the easiest way to do this is to use the Westminster franchise. The Government should be supported on this matter.”