UKIP wants UK referendum on EU withdrawal
A British party has set up a nation-wide campaign aimed at gathering enough signatures to petition for a referendum on Britain's future in the EU.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP), a eurosceptic group, launched its "let the people decide" campaign on Monday (12 September) and hopes to gain two million signatures.
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David Lott, a campaign organisor for the party says such a significant amount of votes would be enough to expose their arguments and put pressure on UK prime minister Tony Blair, even if a referendum will probably not be the end result.
"With this we want to raise the temperature of the debate", he says.
"This campaign offers an opportunity for the British people to have a decisive say in the running of their country. UKIP are alone in British politics in believing that the British people are capable to make this decision", said UKIP MEP Roger Knapman.
No written constitution
However, legal experts have dismissed the petition as a waste of time.
"Politicians cannot show up on the doorstep to Downing Street and say 'I have millions of votes under my arm so now you must arrange a referendum'", explains David Lambert, Research Fellow in Cardiff University Law School.
The UK does not have a written constitution, so it does not have a "referenda act" to refer to.
It is up to the government to pass bills on referenda to parliament for a final decision.
"Without government support it is literally impossible to get the bill through", says Mr Lambert "they simply will not take time to look at it".
He adds that in the past there have been requests for EU referenda from the Conservatives, but none has led to a referendum.
UKIP received 1.2 percent of votes in the last elections in the UK, but at the European elections last year the party secured 17 percent of the vote.
If such a referendum were arranged and Britons voted to leave the EU, it is unclear how the withdrawal would actually come about.
Under the current EU treaties, there are no rules on how and if a country can leave the union.
The rules simply say that "this treaty has been entered for an unlimited time".
However, British liberal MEP Andrew Duff says the UK could very well leave the EU by tearing up the accession treaty and "negotiating it in reverse".
The decision to leave the union would be Britain's alone, but a 'secession treaty' would have to be agreed upon by the other member states.
Mr Duff says UK's withdrawal would "leave a terrible mess".
To date, the only similar example is when Greenland went from being a full member of the EU as part of the Danish commonwealth to becoming a part of the Overseas Lands and Territories (OLT) grouping in 1985.
The agreement was reached after a year-long negotiation round, a referendum in Greenland and finally a deal on fisheries.
Greenland's withdrawal meant no more EU access to Greenland's immense fishing territories.