I gave four reasons and as far as I can see they still hold good today:
- Europe should be one of the great issues in British politics. By quarantining it through promising referendums and then not holding them, the parties have done much to being politics into disrepute. Let's debate Europe at general elections.
- By advocating an "in or out" referendum the Liberal Democrats are retreating to their comfort zone. The question now is what kind of Europe we want to see, and that requires some thought. Reminding people that we were the first people to advocate British membership of the EEC will no longer do.
- The idea that an incoming Liberal Democrat government would hold a referendum and then, if the outs won, devote five years to negotiating British withdrawal from the EU is ludicrous.
- Advocating this referendum exacerbates the idea that we are trying to be all things to all people. We are the most pro-European party, but if you hate the EU then - hey! - you can still vote for us because we will give you a referendum so you can vote to leave it.
Jonah Oliver points out that this would not be just. The Lib Dem manifesto at the last election promised an "in or out" referendum "the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU".
No such fundamental change is under discussion at present, and - of course - we did not win the election.
Still, it would have been a lot better if we had never taken up the idea of such a referendum in the first place.