The United Kingdom is going to have a referendum on our membership of the European Union before the end of 2017. As somebody who has sought and campaigned for this outcome for over twenty years, I’m left in a state of shock that it’s actually on the verge of happening.
Even more surprised is our old Etonian prime minister David Cameron who pledged a referendum after years of denying one in an attempt to “shoot the UKIP fox”.
He is probably even more stunned than me that this referendum now needs to happen. It is to be an in/out referendum. But crucially this vote follows a renegotiation.
And the terms of that renegotiation are the key.
The Eurosceptic group in the House of Commons appear to be even more stunned than myself and the prime minister at this outcome. In fact they currently appear to be paralysed. The line given from some old time, long serving Tory and Labour Eurosceptics is let us give the prime minister a chance. Some have even said lets us not snipe at the prime minister in his attempt to get Britain a better deal. And herein lies the problem.
Dave is being allowed to set his own terms for the renegotiation. He is virtually unchallenged within the Westminster village. He has set his sights on changes to migrant benefits and perhaps on a good day, to repatriating some powers over employment legislation.
If unchallenged he is likely to come back with his new good friend Mr Juncker having made several concessions (probably after a very good lunch).
There is a problem with this. If we allow the prime minister to set his own agenda we effectively hand him trust and a very easy “victory” in the renegotiation. He will cry, as the slippery Harold Wilson did in 1975, that he has got a good deal. And many in the non-political environs of this country who are too busy paying their mortgages and raising their children will believe it.
It is incumbent upon those of us who are genuine Eurosceptics to challenge these assertions. Some extensive polling released today, commissioned by a European political party of which UKIP is a member, shows that the public, when questioned, raise deeper concerns about this renegotiation.
They want our so-called renegotiation to focus on the free movement of people and given the situation in Calais, who can blame them?
They want Parliament and the British courts to be supreme or at very least to have a veto over EU law.
And they are concerned that we currently pump £55 million per day to a tired, corrupt organisation whose accounts have not been signed off by the auditors for nineteen years when there are greater, pressing financial demands at home.
The Eurosceptic movement in Britain needs to set the terms for this renegotiation. It needs to challenge Dave at every step of the way. Today, I have mobilised the people’s army otherwise known as UKIP. We will challenge the prime minister at every European summit. We will make sure that he is not allowed to get away with an empty, false renegotiation.
We will in addition, from September, launch the biggest series of public meetings that have been seen in British politics since the birth of the Labour Party.
I say none of this in a spirit of antagonism towards the Conservative and Labour Eurosceptics.
I say this because if they like me wish to win back the independence, self government and self respect that I believe this nation deserves it is time to get up off our backsides and become active.
I will work and UKIP will work with Eurosceptics from all political shades. We must not allow traditional divisions of left and right to mar the greater prize of national democracy.
If we do not challenge David Cameron on his renegotiation agenda, we will lose. Time to get moving.