Peterborough MP to Defy Whip on EU Referendum

07:20 Friday 21st October 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: He’s a rebel. (MUSIC – REBEL REBEL DAVID BOWIE) He’s a rebel. MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson has threatened to resign as a Ministerial Aide if MPs are ordered to vote against proposals for a referendum on leaving the European Union. Downing Street says it expects Conservative MPs to vote against the proposals on Monday, but Stewart Jackson says he will rebel. He owes it to his constituents to support a referendum. Morning rebel.
PAUL STAINTON: How are you doing? Alright?
STEWART JACKSON: That’s not strictly correct. I haven’t threatened to resign. I’ve actually said I am going to vote for the motion, and therefore I expect to be sacked.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Well. that’s even worse. That’s even worse for you, isn’t it, I suppose, being sacked? But I mean, it is a strong emotive issue, Europe, isn’t it, and many people think that the Government has misjudged the public’s feelings on this.
STEWART JACKSON: Well I had a meeting on Wednesday with the Chief Whip. And I made the point to him that actually, had their been a free vote, or a one-line whip, had the whipping been a bit lighter, then actually people would have been able to let off steam, represent the views of their constituents. It would have been an indicative debate. It doesn’t affect legislation. And in fact this motion, the reason I’m voting for it, is because it’s quite a sophisticated nuanced motion, which would allow the Government quite a bit of wiggle room.
PAUL STAINTON: What does that all mean, by the way?
STEWART JACKSON: Well what it means is that the motion says that the Government can bring forward a draft Bill, in the next number of months or years, with a view to either keeping the status quo, or repatriating powers, significant powers, from Europe, or instituting a referendum to leave the European Union or not. So there were lots of options. It’s a sort of multi-option motion. And I think the Government could have won a lot of kudos by saying it’s a really important issue, lots of people are concerned about it, in a mature democracy such as ours it’s the right place to discuss it, the House of Commons. David Cameron was going off to the Commonwealth Conference with William Hague, with the Queen. He could have said, well, you know, it’s not going to stop me governing, I’m still the Prime Minister, I still make the policy. But this heavy whipping now has turned it into a sort of trial of strength.
PAUL STAINTON: Well you don’t want to upset your Liberal Democrat friends, do you?
STEWART JACKSON: (LAUGHS) Exactly Paul. As far as I’m concerned, you have to be more than 54 years of age to have ever participated in some kind of plebocite or referendum on the European Union. And that’s not acceptable. We live in a mature democracy. For me, country and constituency comes first, party second, and career third. And as far as I’m concerned, people can be trusted on this issue. We discussed the AV referendum last year. People were sophisticated enough then to make the right decision about it. And it’s a really fundamental question, do we want our country to be essentially run by a Euro elite, unelected and unaccountable, or (by) the people that send us to the House of Commons. And for me, I’m not prepared to barter positions in Government. I have a bond of trust, a solemn bond of trust, with the constituents who elected me, and they come first. That’s why I’ll be voting for the motion on Monday.
PAUL STAINTON: I put on Facebook whether you would vote in or out in a referendum. Mark Taylor, “Out out out“. Andrew, “Out, out, out“. Dawn Birch, “I think with Europe we’re led to believe if we pull out, somehow the lights will suddenly go out, and we’ll go and live in caves. I think it’s a bigger question than whether we’re in Europe or not, but I haven’t quite fathomed what the question is“. Roy South, “Out out out. Scrap the Human Rights Act too then. It only benefits people from other countries.” Nobody, nobody on our Facebook page wanted to stay in. Which way would you vote, if there was a referendum tomorrow? In or out?
STEWART JACKSON: I genuinely have not made my mind up. And that’s the whole point of the debate. It’s not some kind of Trojan Horse to get us out of the European Union. It is to have a proper moderate well-informed debate, across the country, to allow people to look at the issues. And I would be the first person, if people said actually, on balance, because of our unique position, we would be damaged by leaving the European Union, and we should stay in. I would accept the will of the people, and their decision. At the moment though, people feel shut out from the decision. Their esteem for Parliament and politicians is low because of that. And I think a way to repair that damaged reputation is to have a proper vote, in Parliament, on a EU referendum, and have that referendum out in the country.
PAUL STAINTON: And which way do you think it would go at the moment? You speak to people all the time in Peterborough. Which way would they vote?
STEWART JACKSON: Well in Peterborough I think it would be pretty solidly for leaving the European Union. If people were sure that it wouldn’t affect their jobs, that we would remain a very significant, as we are, a very significant trading power in the world, and that we would get back significant amounts of money, our own money, to put into our own public services for instance, then I think people probably would say, on balance, that we should leave. But I haven’t genuinely made my mind up yet. But what I’m saying is, give the people their say. Trust them. It’s what I said in my election manifesto, and I will adhere to that. And I’m sorry. It’s the first time I’ve ever voted against my own Government on a three-line whip. But on this occasion, I think they’re wrong.
PAUL STAINTON: I’m just going to ask you very quickly about the breaking news we’re bringing this morning that NHS Peterborough is to merge with NHS Cambridgeshire. Your thoughts on that? For a unitary authority to have to merge its health issues?
STEWART JACKSON: Well Paul we all know that in 2006 I was part of the campaign to keep Peterborough as a separate primary care trust, when Patricia Hewitt was then Health Secretary, and wanted to merge them. I’m sorry that Derek Harris the Chairman has gone. I think he did an excellent job in trying to turn round the finances in a very short period. I think again it’s the wrong decision. I think Peterborough has unique health challenges, and I will be taking the matter up directly with Andrew Lansley and the appropriate Ministers. Our priority at the moment is paying down that debt, and making sure that front line health services are protected in the city.
PAUL STAINTON: .. Stewart thank you for that. That vote on the referendum, by the way, or the vote on whether to have a referendum, is on Monday in the House of Commons. It’ll be interesting won’t it, to see which way it goes.