Dutch ‘no’ vote is a wake up call for the UK referendum

The vote against the EU's association agreement with Ukraine emphasises the need for a full-throated Remain campaign


When the UKIP leader took his smirking face and fag packet politics to join the Dutch campaign in a referendum against Europe’s association agreement with Ukraine, he was happy to endorse a process initiated by an extreme right-wing website ‘No Style’ and to campaign alongside the far right so-called ‘Freedom Party’.

Not to mention the irony of Nigel Farage last month demanding that US President Barack Obama stays out of the EU Referendum debate, but this month giving himself a free pass to meddle in Dutch politics.

It is no coincidence that one of the first to welcome yesterday’s ‘no’ result was Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, exposing Farage’s hypocrisy in seeking to claim the mantle of democracy whilst simultaneously engaged in a dangerous flirtation with anti-democratic Russia.

Medvedev’s master, Vladimir Putin, would be one of the first to welcome a vote that saw Britain quit the European Union on June 23.

Forgive me if my first sympathies should be for the protesters of Maidan Square, Kiev, with some of whom I stood, and with others who were prepared to lose their lives for the sake of democracy.

Ukraine was invaded by Russia and saw some of its territory annexed. The shame of yesterday’s result is that it is European support for the country’s independent democratic development which is now castin to doubt.

But British Eurosceptics spotted their chance for a publicity coup in advance of our own referendum. Now it is important for Britain’s ‘Remain’ camp to spot our own opening in response and an opportunity to learn.

The differences are clear: in the Netherlands there was a minimum threshold of 30 per cent for validity, and many pro-EU voters gambled by abstaining, only to see the turnout inch up to 32 per cent.

Another contributing factor came in the way that the Government coalition parties refrained from full-throated campaigning, despite all adopting ‘yes’ positions. With their own General Election a year away and bad opinion poll ratings from the outset, too many chose to sit this one out. The lesson of course is that Labour, and other parties, cannot afford to do the same here.

Also, it is clear that there was widespread confusion, even incomprehension, about the real substance of the question. Even the lead ‘no’ campaigner admitted that the campaign became a proxy for other questions about Europe.

In Britain, we have to win the communications battle against our opponents over which are the real issues on the ballot paper.

However, it is sad but true that the real message of the result was that the Dutch public is against future EU enlargement — even if this was never part of the association agreement. British Eurosceptics have launched their own ‘project fear’ about Turkey, in the same vein.

Yet the truth is that any aspirations for EU membership whether from Kiev or Ankara are many years away and would require dramatic changes, of a type which in reality we should welcome if they ever happened.

However the British referendum isn’t about EU membership for countries several time zones away and many years ahead, but about our country and our future, right now.

And one of the absolutely key lessons from the Netherlands is a warning cry to British voters that, if they don’t turn out in June, the extremists can win. If you basically believe Britain is better off remaining in the European Union for all its imperfections — and we are — you have to vote for it.

If fair-minded people across the mainstream of the political spectrum really don’t want to hand victory to the political fringes, we have to persuade them to take part.

It is an absurd notion that you can advance democracy in your own country by suppressing it in another, but that is the argument which appeared to succeed in the Netherlands.

In Britain’s EU referendum, we must confront such Eurosceptic claims, by boldly arguing that our own democracy is enhanced by allying with democratic partners in Europe, and diminished if we are cut-off from them.

And instead of last night’s Dutch referendum being a rehearsal for Brexit, we are waking up from a disturbing nightmare which will itself be a wake-up call to the British electorate to vote to remain in the European Union.

Richard Howitt MEP is Labour Foreign Affairs Spokesperson in the European Parliament and MEP for the East of England. He was present in the Dutch Parliament in The Hague to observe the referendum as part of the eighth interparliamentary conference on EU foreign policy.

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4 Responses to “Dutch ‘no’ vote is a wake up call for the UK referendum”

  1. NHSGP

    So when Remain wins, who is the extremist in the minority.

    Meanwhile, Cameron’s state spending on the Remain vote is illegal under EU law.

    “the public authorities (national, regional and local) must not influence the outcome of the vote by excessive, one-sided campaigning. The use of public funds by the authorities for campaigning purposes must be prohibited.”

    Oh dear. Breaking EU law to remain in the EU.

    What a Farce.

    Meanwhile why has Labour gone quite on the Guardian’s tax evasion?

    Unite generated an investment income of £5,787,000 in 2011/12 and paid no tax.

    Why no howls of indignation?

    Or does the ends excuse the means?

  2. James Kemp

    I am a Labour supporter but i will never vote for the total undemocratic EU yes you can com all solidarity on me but it doesn’t wash what they did to spain and Italy is beyond parody. Combined with TTIP the name we must not mention but will destroy the NHS oh you say don’t worry we will vote it down but you don’t have the votes and quite frankly MEP’s have said too many times we will vote one way the whoops wave it throught. Instead we get constant hate stories or fluff bits.

    If you want my vote admit the EU needs major overhaul top to bottom, stop worrying about strawman arguments like immigration and get rid of TTIP until then sorry i will have to vote NO!

  3. robert andersen

    The left in the UK is the current joke- how it can support TTIP is beyond comprehension.

  4. Justin

    I refuse to vote in this divisive referendum of reaction!

    ‘Dutch ‘no’ vote is a wake up call for the UK referendum.’ – (this is a false equivalence btw because the issue of Ukraine is of greater significance).
    I guess the sky is going to fall. Fortunately, I came across an article that does not have a hysterical headline. It reads:
    ‘The great Brexit kabuki – a masterclass in political theatre’ – by Andrew Moravcsik FT weekend 9th April
    ‘…under no circumstances will Britain leave Europe, regardless of the result of the referendum on June 23. It is instead a long kabuki drama in which politicians, not least Eurosceptics, advocate policies they would never actually implement.’
    Yet Britain looks unlikely to exit Europe even if its citizens voted to do so. Instead the government would probably do just what EU members – Denmark, France, Ireland and the Netherlands – have always done after such votes. It would negotiate a new agreement, nearly identical to the old one.’

    So, enough with the panicky headlines/opinion pieces, we should leave that (no pun intended), to the leave campaign Richard.

    Curiously, I do find it amazing that the ukippers’ and tory Eurosceptics complain that the remain side has gamed the amount spent for their side in their favour, what did they expect? The saying, be careful what you wish for springs to mind.

    And the thing that elicits my contempt for the June eu referendum. In May I’ll vote Labour, in other words, a whole series of policies and goals (a *political* part),, *not* just a single issue the following month, which is of no real significance anyway.

    Lastly, incredible that we’re working with the Tories, Lib Dems, and Greens on this issue, party’s we have many policy differences with including goals, but that gets overlooked. This is particularly bad for a social democrat party like Labour, and it leads to division *within* a party that can end up unnecessarily damaging. Of course we will have disagreements within our party on various issues, however, these can be fully debated, crude referendums lead to oversimplifying arguments.

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