For the good of democracy .... a Huddersfield-born man is today leading a mass lobby of Parliament calling for a popular poll on whether Britain should accept the Treaty of Lisbon. ANDREW BALDWIN reports
A MASS lobby of Parliament is taking place today to press for a citizens’ vote on the European Union treaty.
And it’s a Huddersfield-born man who is behind it.
Neil O’Brien runs the I Want a Referendum Campaign, which is calling for a popular poll on whether Britain should accept the Treaty of Lisbon.
The campaign argues that the Labour Government has effectively betrayed a manifesto pledge to hold a referendum over the agreement, signed in the Portuguese capital in December.
Mr O’Brien, 29, who grew up in Dalton, told the Examiner he wanted a referendum for the good of democracy.
A cross-party campaign has gained support from Labour veteran Tony Benn, who has written to all 646 MPs urging them to defy pressure to ratify the treaty in a Commons vote.
The Left-wing ex-MP wrote: “The treaty transfers important powers to others in Europe. This decision must be made by the British people.”
The campaigners say the new EU agreement has only minor changes from a previous constitution, on which Labour promised a referendum in its 2005 manifesto.
But Prime Minister Gordon Brown has insisted that Parliamentary scrutiny alone is sufficient for the treaty.
Mr O’Brien says the I Want a Referendum campaign is rapidly gathering momentum ahead of private polls it is organising in 10 constituencies to put pressure on MPs.
He added: “Without blowing our own trumpet, we have been described as brilliant by the Telegraph, dubbed “pretty amazing” by the BBC’s Europe editor and – best of all – called “deeply invidious” by former Labour spin chief Peter Mandelson.”
Nineteen Labour MPs rebelled against the Government in the first ratification vote in the Commons. But more are expected to defy their party’s leadership when the Commons votes on the treaty issue.
Two former ministers, Kate Hoey and Frank Field, have also vowed to continue campaigning in support of a referendums, despite pressure from Labour Chief Whip Geoff Hoon.
Mr O’Brien went to All Saints’ High School at Bradley Bar and then Greenhead College.
From there he went to Christ Church Oxford, at first to study medicine.
But he had a change of plan and read politics, philosophy and economics instead. After graduating with a first-class degree in 2000 he briefly worked doing PR for a law firm in the City.
He then got involved in politics working for the successful campaign against joining the single currency.
When the Government decided that Britain was not going to join the euro in 2003 he moved on to set up the cross-party campaign Vote 2004.
This successfully pressured the Government at the last General Election into promising a referendum on the European Constitution
Mr O’Brien says: “I never meant to spend so long working on European issues. But I want to stop the Government from wriggling out of the promise to hold a referendum.”