Lords accused of ‘arrogance and contempt’ after claiming British public cannot be trusted on Europe
By Matthew Holehouse, Political Correpsondent
7:12PM GMT 10 Jan 2014
Peers have been accused of showing “contempt” for British voters over the proposed EU referendum, saying the public cannot be trusted to make the right decision.
Dozens of members of the House of Lords today attacked Conservative plans to set in law an in/out vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union by 2017.
There are growing fears the bill will be killed at committee stage by Labour and Liberal Democrat peers, despite it sailing through the Commons and receiving an unopposed second reading in the Lords.
Lord Mandelson, the former EU Commissioner, said any vote would be a “lottery” in which the electorate would be swayed by irrelevant issues.
He told peers David Cameron had been “taken hostage by the militant tendency” in the Tory Party and was “grandstanding to the Ukip gallery.”
“We should be very wary of putting our membership in the hands of a lottery in which we have no idea what factors, completely unrelated to Europe, will affect the outcome,” said Lord Mandelson who is in line for a £31,000-a-year European Commission pension when he turns 65, prior to the debate.
Lord Kinnock, a former Labour leader and European Commissioner, said the referendum was a “lame gesture” in response to the “daily war drums of the unyielding Europhobes.” “He has pranced to their rhythm,” he said during seven hours of debate.
Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, a crossbencher, triggered anger by telling Peers referendums are alien to British philisophy.
“Parliament makes decisions, not the people,” he said, quoting the former Prime Minister James Callaghan.
Lord Oakeshott, a Liberal Democrat ally of Vince Cable, the business secretary, said there is “no need” for the Bill because voters can have their say in the 2015 General Election. Referenda are a “cowards way out” for politicians who don’t want to make decisions, he claimed.
“If you want to come out of Europe, you vote UKIP. If you want to stay in, you vote Liberal Democrat or Labour. If you do not know or do not care, you vote Conservative,” he said.
James Wharton MP, who has sponsored the Private Members Bill in the Commons, accused peers of treating voters with contempt.
“How dare these unelected peers, many of whom have generous European pension funds and made good livings out of the European bureaucracy, attempt to frustrate the bill, the aim of which is to let the British people decide?” he said tonight.
“The irony is the detached arrogance that makes people wary about the EU is being shown by the people trying to defend it,” he added. If Peers kill the Bill the Government would respond with fresh legislation next year, he said.
Categories: EU Erosion