Goldsmith preaches the word

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The Independent Online
The British people should be given the right to "just get out" of Europe in a multi-choice vote, Sir James Goldsmith, leader of the Referendum Party, demanded yesterday.

To thunderous applause from 5,000 supporters at his party's first - and perhaps last - conference, the billionaire politician finally showed his hand on a referendum on the European Union.

"We are the rabble, and we have had enough," he warned.

The scale of support for the new party demonstrated at the Brighton conference is certain to send fresh shock waves through the ranks of the Conservatives, whose "wait and see" strategy on European monetary union was rejected contemptuously by speaker after speaker.

Sir James demanded a multi-optional referendum that would "accommodate the existing diversity of views". He spelled out four choices: that we should become an integral part of a federal Europe; that we should be part of a family of sovereign European nations which would co-operate when we can do things better together rather than separately; that we should return to being a member of EFTA, the European Free Trade Association; or that we should just get out of the European Union.

Sir James said his party would work with pro-referendum MPs to obtain a multi-option referendum. He made clear his own preference is for the second option: "A new Europe. A Europe that draws its strengths from its extraordinary diversity. A Europe that is built on its true pillars - its ancient nations.

"We would be members of a family of sovereign nations which would co- operate for their mutual benefit."

This is the clearest signal that the Referendum Party will seek to halt the European integration envisaged by the "ever closer union" in the Treaty of Maastricht. "The peoples of Europe must be liberated from the control of the bureaucracy and power should return where it belongs - to Westminster," he insisted.

Sir James portrayed his supporters as a "rabble army", but,mostly middle-aged and male, they resembled a model army mobilised to fight the last battle for Britain. Those who disagreed were excoriated by Sir James as "fools, weaklings and worse".

The leader was surrounded by protective "heavies" amid tight security. In a statement, the Referendum Party boasted of being able to check on would-be infiltrators through "the records held by the chiefs of police in each region of the country".