Why Labour should call for an immediate EU Referendum

27th May, 2013 10:01 am

Yesterday Lord Prescott, John Prescott, Prezza, declared that he was for a referendum. Not a 2017 referendum, not for a referendum at the General Election, but for one now.

I can’t fault his logic; the line is “let’s shoot Cameron’s fox and give the people their say on Europe now”. It would be beautiful. Ed Miliband stands up at the next PMQs, whenever Cameron can be bothered to take one, and declares that ‘The Prime Minister’s course is destabilising, unnecessarily causing uncertainty and not in the national interest, and so we must have a referendum now to settle the issue for a generation’. Either way Labour would win points by doing the right thing. If Cameron called a referendum Ed Miliband would look statesman-like, Labour would be defining the agenda, ready to govern again, or Cameron would falter, not call a referendum, and his party would implode.

Beyond that, during the referendum, Cameron would split The Conservative Party, he would lead a decent sized number of pro-Europeans campaigning to stay in, while a vocal minority of his MPs would vigorously campaign for ‘Out’. His leadership would never recover. We, on the other hand, would be largely united on the issue, Ed Miliband leading an almost certainly victorious ‘In’ campaign. It would wash away any remaining progressive shame for the loss of the AV referendum, give us a new sense of purpose, and a leader who spoke to the people of The United Kingdom and took them with him.

Until now it has been unfashionable to argue for a referendum in the Labour Party. Within the last few months that has been changing increasingly quickly. As with the AV referendum, which was seen as an internal coalition fight originally, it has taken John Prescott’s intervention to make it a wholly credible position for committed Labour activists. The shift is not just visible in our venerable ex-Deputy Prime Minister. Ed Balls has been repeatedly dropping hints that he thinks a referendum is the right policy for us. Most recently, on Friday, Ed Balls said “I certainly don’t think we can ever afford to give the impression that we know better than the voting public.” This follows similar comments a few weeks before (also in the Yorkshire Post). Keith Vaz has been arguing for a referendum ‘now’ for months, and is feeling truly vindicated that so many others in the Party have come round to his position, because “we cannot afford to be painted as anti-democratic”.

Personally, as I speak to more and more Labour members, activists, candidates and those already elected, I see that there is a serious shift. People see the validity of the argument, and mostly think that ‘In’ will win any vote and, most importantly, understand that it is the symbolism of truly consulting the people that matters most. John Prescott saw that, and so he is calling for us to support an EU Referendum, and that is why he was Deputy Prime Minister in one of the greatest governments this country has ever had.

Dominic Moffit is Campaign Director of Labour for a Referendum

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  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    What happens to the Labour Party if the people vote “out”?

    We currently have a tory government. Any immediate referendum which resulted in “out” would give them the carte blanche to concoct a manifesto for 2015 in which every piece of European legislation the tories don’t like is cancelled, and that might be a very popular manifesto.

    You might think it unlikely to happen, but you don’t know. So, this is a “high stakes” proposal, because if your guess that “in” will win is wrong, you will have caused a tory landslide and much else.

    • So you think we shouldn’t consult the British people on EU membership but accept laws that the British people may not like because they might vote for a government in future that implements policies you don’t like? Ah, democracy – what a bitch eh.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        No, I do think that the British people should be consulted. My question was what the Labour Party position might be. As I am not a member of the Labour Party, my own views are free to be different from what the Party might like.

        The tories have a real problem with Europe, but not as much as Labour do, when the inevitable question is eventually forced into the public sphere.

      • MikeHomfray

        I certainly don’t think we should embark upon a resolution where one of the possible outcomes would make it impossible for us to govern and retain any credibility

    • David Lindsay

      What happens to the Labour Party if the people vote “out”?


    • JoeDM

      What an excellent senario. Bring it on !!!!

    • aracataca

      You actually think that spineless bon viveur Cameron would actually allow a referendum to happen now? I saw a picture him chillaxing in Ibiza today while the rest of us are confronted with the aftermath of Woolwich on our recession ravaged streets and felt like throwing up.
      We should call for a referendum now on the basis that we would renegotiate our relationship with the EU – with an out vote behind us our negotiating position would be strengthened and the referendum would be consultative with Parliament making the final decision as was the case in 1975.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        All 3 main parties have called for, or “threatened” a referendum within the last 10 years in their manifestoes, and we know that the UKIP would like such. The tories passed a law calling for a referendum if big changes happen in the EU.

        So, there is likely to be a referendum, at some point. Within the next decade, undoubtedly.

        My own opinion welcomes such, but it is also important to note that the pro-EU camp (which includes Labour) is slightly asleep at the wheel. It would be a poor referendum if it is decided upon less than total information, and an intelligent dissection of that.

        So while Labour rightfully tries to avert a referendum, it should have a plan for it occurring, and more importantly, a plan for what Labour should be if the people of our country reject the EU.

      • milliboot

        We keep being told we shouldnt give in to terrorists, which is why the PM has gone to Ibiza for a 3 day half term break.I dont see any”aftermath” of thw murder exept a few nutters causing minimal damage. Still dont let the truth get in the way of point scoring will you ?

    • dave244

      I don’t think that UKIP would disappear after a referendum.
      People are tuning to Ukip not just because of the European Union yes people have a concern about the E.U but a bigger concern is the how the politicians in Westminster are viewed most people see them as professional politicians who are shallow and opportunistic
      You only have to look at the expenses scandal to see how far apart mps really are from the voter in the street when it blew up in their faces most of them said “it’s ok i have paid it all back and it was just bookkeeping errors anyway and we are sorry” and then a few sacrificial lambs were thrown in to the courts in the hope that that would keep everyone happy .
      So people look at Ukip and think yes a lot of what they say makes sense so what the hell all the others lie anyway so let’s give them a go.

  • AlanGiles

    Another example of “us, too” game playing. Anyway, Labour is not in a position to demand a referendum “now”.

  • “it is the symbolism of truly consulting the people that matters most. ”

    This does matter a great deal. But there are many other choices that Labour should place before the electorate.

    If an EU referendum is the only discussion on the table then people will talk about little else and this, of it itself, accords an unnecessary importance to the in/out debate.

    What about the austerity measures currently implemented across the EU and also proposed in an intensified form by UKIP”s Farage? Many distinguished economists and commentators have pointed out: there is no evidence – and never has been – that a policy of austerity during a recession works.

    Isn’t it about time Labour began to intervene and framed the discussion by putting forward a pragmatic alternative to the austerity policies favoured by both the EU elite and the anti-EU brigade?

  • JohnPReid

    I’m sure there’s a lot more euro sceptic shadow cabinet members ,with views they’ve kept quiet,than is in the public view, if the public voted for us to leave, and labour won an election we’d have to accept it, and go with it, I don’t think it’s be like 75′ but in reverse, that the public had decided one way, and the leadership of labour in 1980 didn’t like what the public had Sid, and then proposed to. Suggest to the public at that next election they should change their minds and vote for so,etching different,

    I’m sure backnpbenchers like Denis skinner who were lowl to Blair and Brown would be prepared to vote for a confidence motion if labour won in 2015 and had to legislate for this

  • David Lindsay

    When James Wharton stages his Canute-like attempt to prevent Labour from taking back Stockton South, then that party ought to put down an amendment declining to give the Daft Bill a Second Reading in view of its entire failure to address immediately pressing concerns such as:

    – The total failure of any “Social Europe” ever to save a single job, service, benefit or amenity;

    – The EU’s imposition of economic austerity;

    – The long, and increasingly accelerated, creation of a militarised EU waging global wars of “liberal intervention” while sustaining a vast military-industrial complex selling arms to all and sundry;

    – The refusal of the Council of Ministers to legislate in public and to publish an Official Report akin to Hansard;

    – The presence in the Council of Ministers and in the European Parliament of all manner of extremist and politically undesirable legislators;

    – The Common Agricultural Policy;

    – The Common Fisheries Policy;

    – EU control of industrial and regional policy;

    – The moves towards a “free trade” agreement between the EU and the United States, to the ruination of jobs, workers’ rights, consumer protection and environmental responsibility on two continents inhabited by many hundreds of millions of people;

    – Social dumping;

    – The drastic restrictions of civil liberties necessary in order to make possible the borderless Europe that has always been a stated aim of the EU;

    – The centrality of EU law to the proposed privatisation of the Royal Mail;

    – The illegality under EU law of any renationalisation of the utilities or of the railways once they have been privatised, although there is no obligation to privatise them in the first place, with the preposterous and pernicious consequence that British railways and utilities can be and are State-owned, just so long as the State in question is not the British State, while the least subsidised railway line in Great Britain has to be returned to the private sector from which it has already had
    to be rescued twice;

    – The impossibility under EU law of using State aid to support two domestic sources of energy, so that it is impossible for this country both to have a nuclear power industry and to exploit our vast resources of coal;

    – The abject incompetence of David Cameron in failing to deliver a real terms reduction in the United Kingdom’s contribution to the EU Budget at this time of austerity, as explicitly required by a resolution of the House of Commons; and

    – The role of EU competition law in the ongoing dismantlement of the National Health Service in England.

    There are more. But those ought to be enough to be getting on with. A Second Reading Amendment must not be too long. In this case, though, it all too easily could be.

    However, would the media pay even so much as the tiniest attention to it? Even if it were passed? Ed Miliband ought to make it clear that if this were not passed, then Labour would vote in both Lobbies on the unamended Second Reading motion, while the Whip would be withdrawn from anyone who voted in only one of them.

    Or would the media just carry on giving coverage to Nigel and Nadine for a laugh? Dare we hope that Nigel and Nadine might be asked what it was about the EU to which they could possibly object? A polite way of asking whether or not they knew even so much as the first thing about politics. Or, indeed, whether or not the media did.

    There is only one way to find out.

  • NT86

    If Labour does pledge a referendum, it will certainly embolden the cause of Labour Eurosceptics, whose voices have been so neglected in the past 20 odd years. Partly by the party’s own direction on the EU and partly because there’s now an assumption by some that it’s a cause of the right only.

    Those in the pro EU camp can make their case just as the opposite makes theirs. I’d say they’d have to wait though, because by a future Labour government would need to ensure that the narrative helps in creating a more equitable EU where ordinary citizens feel far more benefits emanating from Brussels.

  • Monkey_Bach

    We are talking about that great ex-statesman John Prescott, who claimed throughout his slightly less than stellar political career that he’d never accept a life peerage and yet is now Baron Prescott of Kingston-upon-Hull in our county of East Yorkshire, and who, soon after leaving office, whored himself cheap by accepting a five figure sum to play the fool (or act himself) on a jokey television advert for moneysupermarket.com? An obese gentleman of decades standing who claimed in his uninteresting ghost written autobiography that he suffered from bulimia throughout his time as Deputy Prime Minister and whose body was a temple, Tracey Temple, right?

    Who in their right minds gives a toss in respect to what Prezza thinks?

    Can the man even spell the word “referendum”?


    • aracataca

      ‘Can the man even spell the word “referendum”?’

      More arrogance methinks Monkey?

      Not everyone can reach the giddy heights of intellectual superiority exhibited by you. Show some magnanimity Monkey please.

      • Monkey_Bach

        Fair dos. I’m sorry for John Prescott. How’s that? Eeek.

        • AlanGiles

          Who can ever forget Mr. Prescott’s “integrated transport policy” ?…….. just about everybody!

          • aracataca

            How are things in the Green Party? In particular, how is Jason ‘Rowntrees’ Kitcat getting on with destroying the terms and conditions of service of the lowest paid workers on Brighton Council?

          • AlanGiles

            I made it clear at the time I didn’t agree with the idea, though I did point out that other councils of all political persuasions have done exactly the same thing.

            I don’t understand why you keep this silly little “battle” up. To quote yourself:

            “Not everyone can reach the giddy heights of intellectual superiority exhibited by you. Show some magnanimity …please.”

          • Well, dear chum, GMB workers in Brighton have accused Labour of selling out – preferring to indulge in short-sighted and ill-judged politicking* rather than joining with right-thinking Greens and removing Kitcat.

            Not good, not at all good. One can only ask in astonishment: what do they think they’re playing at?!

            * http://liberalconspiracy.org/2013/05/27/gmb-workers-slam-labour-party-for-selling-out-in-brighton/

          • Alex Otley

            They probably think that having Kitcat in charge at the next council election will help Labour’s chances. Really weird, stupid misjudgement. If they removed him they could change the policy…

          • aracataca

            2 points
            1) You’re Alan’s official spokesman these days are you?
            2) Is it really Labour’s responsibility to embroil itself in the internal affairs of the Green Party in Brighton?

          • aracataca

            Who did the tweeting -Uncle Tom Cobley?
            I checked the GMB Southern website and there was nothing about this issue.
            The Green Party run Brighton Council not Labour. Even for charlatans such as the Greens to blame Brighton’s Labour councillors for something the Green Party is implementing along with their new found friends in Brighton’s Tory Party really takes the biscuit.

            Pass the buck sick bag anyone?

          • No mate, I’m no one’s spokesperson but my own. My intention is to arrive at an understanding of what’s going on.

            Interestingly Green MP Caroline Lucas has said she supports the GMB and will join the picket line against her own party/council.

            You may like to portray events in Brighton as ‘Labour good/Green bad’ but it looks more complicated than that so, in my view, a point scoring sectarian approach is both unrealistic and, as we’ve now seen, unhelpful.

          • aracataca

            Look ‘Rowntrees’ and his friends are doing the destruction of the living standards of the refuse workers here. Labour have opposed ‘Rowntrees’ measures in the Council chamber but he and all the other Green councillors have pushed it through with the help of the Tory Councillors.
            The reason why the refuse workers (some of the poorest paid workers on the council) have been attacked is that they don’t fit the Green Party’s almost exclusively middle class demographic.
            I know you’ll be shocked and outraged but I find the GMB website a more reliable source than ‘Liberal Conspiracy’ especially as the Tweets are unattributed and there is no mention whatsoever of Labour ‘betrayal’ on the GMB’s website. Obviously it is not Labour’s responsibility to interfere in the internal affairs of another political party and it is just plain scandalous to suggest that Labour is responsible for something that the Green Party along with its new found Tory friends are doing in Brighton.
            Anyway if you want to really know what the Green Party is actually like check out their record in government in Ireland 2007-2011. As in Brighton you’ll find it was a case of say one thing and do something completely different when in power.

          • i_bid

            Have you taken a look at Labour lately? In no position to call anyone else middle-class. I’m sorry, “squeezed middle”.

          • aracataca

            BTW The bogus and crass attempt of the Green Councillor to involve Labour in its own cruel attack on the lowest paid workers on the Council has now been clarified by the Councillor herself thus:

            I apologise unreservedly for approaching Warren Morgan, the leader of Brighton and Hove Labour, in the way that I did. It was a naive and damaging mistake.

            I want to be clear that I was speaking for no-one but myself. I didn’t discuss contacting Warren Morgan with any of my council colleagues or any other members of the party in advance.

            I am totally committed to the Green Party and am incredibly grateful to Greens in Brighton & Hove, and beyond, for their support. I try always to act in members’ interests, and I apologise especially to members who will rightly feel let down by this error of judgement.

            She added: “I am truly sorry.”

            She says that it was ‘a naive and damaging mistake’ yet you slag Labour off for not participating in that ‘mistake’.

          • You are free to choose sectarianism. I remain on the side of the GMB members:


          • aracataca

            Is that suppose to mean that I don’t support the bin men and street cleaners ? Assuming the moral high ground once again Dave? What a surprise!

          • Monkey_Bach

            I thought his “regional assemblies” debacle was a buffoonish triumph too! Eeek.

          • John McEvoy

            Ah yes – aeroplanes meeting trains meeting buses, just like in Switzerland. How far did he get with it?

    • RogerMcC

      And you didn’t even mention JP’s very extensive business interests in China…..

  • Alex Shattock

    I think this is a terrible idea. There is such a high chance that a referendum will result in an exit, and then where will be? Talk all you want about ‘giving the people a say’, but there’s a reason Berlusconi relied so heavily on referendums: the side which controls the media and has the most organised campaign wins. The media is very anti-EU and UKIP is a pre-packaged “leave” campaign, so we all know how it’ll turn out. The people would only have an informed choice if the “leave” campaign was matched in funding, campaigning and media support by the “stay” campaign, which would never happen.

    • JoeDM

      “The media is very anti-EU…”

      The BBC is thoroughly pro-EU and this is why:

      “The BBC admitted in a letter to a Tory MP that it has received nearly
      £3million in grant money from the European Union over the past four years.

      Other grants totalling £16million came from local authorities across the UK.
      The money was spent on “research and development projects”.

      The broadcaster also disclosed that its commercial arm BBC Worldwide borrowed over £141million from the European Investment Bank since 2003. Of that figure £30million is still due to be repaid by the end of May this year.” See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/9055183/BBC-admits-receiving-millions-in-grants-from-EU-and-councils.html

      A substantial conflict of interests.

      Also, we are not told the terms & conditions of the EU funding but we know from other organisations that have recieved similar funding that the T&Cs routinely include clauses covering the funded organisation’s public statements concerning the EU which include strict prohibition on criticism of the EU.

      • Alex Otley

        Wouldn’t that be a breach of the BBC Charter? If it’s true then it would be a scandal, but I’m very dubious.

        The BBC tends to be pro-establishment. There may well be a bit of pro-EU bias as a result of this general trend, as the UK is in the EU and the BBC doesn’t really challenge the status quo. I doubt it stretches to being contractually obliged to be pro-EU.

        • John Reid

          to quote Tony Benn,and you’re right it is pro the establishment, it gets away with being bias, as the establishmetn has been heading down the EU road for years,

    • DWWolds

      Actually, it is the other way round as the EU would fund the “in” campaign and thus pour taxpayers money into it.

  • dave244

    Your line “Either way Labour would win points by doing the right thing” sums up why people are so disillusioned with parties politics because politicians seem to be more interested in political point scoring than actually doing what they should be doing is it any wonder that something like54% of people were “certain” to vote.

    • Aaron D Highside

      Thanks for saving me having to say it, Dave.

  • kb32904

    I don’t agree with this at all.

    If Cameron called a referendum now, just how on earth do you think Ed would get the credit ? Dave standing all ‘statesman-like’ taking all the plaudits while we would be ignored (at most) & blamed at best if it all went wrong !

    We should stop dancing to their tune, state our case for staying in & let the in-fighting amongst the tories continue until they self-destruct.

  • Stuck-Record

    It is, as you say, a brilliant tactic. And would completely destroy the current Conservative party for 5 to 10 years.

    The tiny caveat is that there is no conceivable way it would ever be allowed to happen. Even the most microscopic possibility that the UK population might just be crazy enough to vote ‘no’ is an unacceptable risk for pro-EU-ers.

  • wycombewanderer

    You do realise that Brown missed four times as many PMQs as Cameron; you do realise that Camerons attendance at PMQs is better than Blairs don’t you?

  • wycombewanderer

    Asan aside youn all realise that the EU US trade talks come with specific proposals to allow US companies access to run European public services.

    So the Europhiles are actually voting for, and encouraging the privatisation and running of the NHS by US companies.

    Still never mind if it gets you into power and rubs the tories noses in it that’s ok.

    We’ve seen it before with the Neather plan and that worked well!

  • Remittance Man

    So your argument is based on base politics, as opposed to principle. Obviously the idea that letting the people have a say, one way or the other, on a major issue of our time is outside your frame of reference.

  • I don’t think I feel quite as strongly as the views expressed in the link below but some very good points are made regarding Euroscepticism from a left-wing point of view and it’s well worth a read …


    • Thanks for the link – it’s an interesting read. Certainly today’s UKIP is becoming a magnet for bigots and far-right fantasists.

      Farage’s removal of a clause from the party’s literature describing the party as “a non-sectarian, non-racist body with no prejudices against foreigners or lawful minorities of any kind” should raise eyebrows.

  • aracataca

    Oh yes of course the man is an absolute martyr slaving away for the good of the country. How could I be so stupid as to not notice?

    • wycombewanderer

      But why does the author try to score cheap points by stating something that is so easily shot down?

      It makes no sense.

      It hardly lends credence to the rest of the article when the opening gambit is a stupid one!

  • Mike Isaacs

    This entire article is built on a ridiculous premise. Why didn’t Prescott press for a Referendum when he was deputy PM?

  • David Bouvier

    Well… no … if Cameron was pushed to have a referendum now, it would be a 3-choice one, “Out regardless”, “Renegotiate and decide”, or “Stay in regardless”. And all the polling says that option 2 – Cameron’s policy – is the one the majority of the British people support most.

  • kb32904

    I think you’ll find that’s because Dave & Co adjourn Parliament on a Tuesday rather than the more traditional Thursday.

    Fail to see wtf that has to do with calling an EU refernedum but hey, ho…..

    • wycombewanderer

      Then you should ask the author of the article why he included the aside’ if Cameron bothers to turn up’

      I merely pointed out the weakness of including it in an article to which it is utterly irrelevant.

      I wonder why no europhiles have responded to my other point about the EU US trade deal?

  • I would support an in/out referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU. I suspect at some stage in the near future the Labour party shall do the same. The rise of UKIP is in large measure due to the widespread unpopularity amongst Conservative grass-roots of the ‘social democrat’ Mr Cameron. EU membership is not even a priority amongst the Kippers. I believe that if a referendum was to take place, the ‘in’ vote would win.

  • Richard Corbett

    The Conservatives propose to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership after negotiating changes and opt-outs that suit their policy preferences. The choice would be between a Conservative partial membership of Europe or no Europe.

    Remaining a full member would not be an option. If the Conservatives proposed, for instance, to opt out of the social chapter (common rules for the common market setting down minimum standards for protecting workers), there would be no vote on that.

    Ed Miliband is absolutely right to resist pressures to match the Conservative party’s pledge to hold a referendum. That pledge has very little to do with the national interest, and more to do with bridging the divisions within the Conservative party — and their fear of UKIP.

    If Labour pledged to hold a referendum, then it would have to do so – a massive distraction during the first years of the Labour government, diverting effort away from overcoming the economic downturn, and probably worsening it. And heaven help us if we lost it (which is not inconceivable, given the overwhelming hostility of the media). We would spend the next few years negotiating our exit from the European Union and simultaneously trying to negotiate new trade agreements with almost every other country in the world to replace those we currently have via the EU – negotiating alone, as Britain, without the clout of the rest of Europe behind us.

    I think Ed has also worked out that there are not many votes to be gained for Labour by pledging a referendum. Opinion polls show that the subject comes well down the list of issues considered important by the public. And many of those who do think it is a priority are to be found among right-wing Conservative or UKIP/BNP supporters – hardly likely to switch to Labour if we make a referendum pledge.

    Finally, there is the crucial matter of inward investment coming into Britain. The uncertainty created by questioning whether Britain might no longer be a member of the European Union — the world’s largest market — in five years time is already damaging inward investment now. It has not yet been dramatic, because most potential investors do not believe that a referendum is likely. After all, the opinion polls do not show much likelihood of a Conservative victory, let alone an absolute majority, in the general election. But if Labour matched the pledge, then the referendum would become a virtual certainty – and that would harm inward investment right now.

    Ed, even as leader of the opposition, knows he has a key responsibility for Britain’s economic prospects on his shoulders.

  • AndyB123

    The real answer to the question has been missed.

    Here is one of the labour manifesto commitments from way back in 2005, an election they won, remember?

    “”We will put [the EU constitutional Treaty] to the British people in a referendum and campaign whole-heartedly for a ‘Yes’ vote to keep Britain a leading nation in Europe.”


    The reason why people are so jaded with politics is just this sort of thing. Promise something people want to have, and give them effing ID cards instead.

    So yes, Prescott is right. IT’S A BIT BLOODY LATE THOUGH… Why didn’t you do it when in power, like you promised?

    God I hate politicians!

  • John McEvoy

    There is one small problem, which is getting bigger. U**P.

  • Major Plonquer

    Blue Peter Politics.

  • Monkey_Bach

    “John Prescott saw that, and so he is calling for us to support an EU Referendum, and that is why he was Deputy Prime Minister in one of the greatest governments this country has ever had.”

    Doesn’t the longest serving Prime Minister in “in one of the greatest governments this country has ever had” – over egging the pudding a bit there aren’t you? – holds a diametrically opposite view as far as a precipitous EU referendum goes doesn’t he?


  • Isabelle

    It is a great pity that the reasons behind this referendum campaign appear to be purely domestic. It is all about dividing the conservative party and scoring some cheap points. Instead, you should lead a well-informed, critical debate about Britain’s EU membership, discussing pros and cons. This referendum will be dangerous for British democracy, because the majority of people will not vote (see AV referendum). Mostly UKIP supporters and right wingers will turn up (as is the case for European elections). So, please, think twice.


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