Pressure groups should be able to trigger binding national referendums on any subject if they get the support of just five per cent of the electorate, the Ukip leader Nigel Farage suggested today.
Under plans that will form part of Ukip’s general election manifesto, referendums would automatically be held if more than 2.3 million signed a petition on any issue of Government policy.
Mr Farage claimed the move would help create “direct democracy” in Britain and reduce the disconnect between voters and their elected representatives in Westminster.
But he admitted that such a move could be divisive and potentially tie the hands of Government on controversial issues such as nuclear power, fracking and HS2.
Speaking to an audience of civil servants at the Institute for Government Mr Farage said while there were risks to giving voters a greater direct say on Government policy he believed the benefits outweighed the risks.
And he pointed to countries like Switzerland that have held seven referendums on subjects such as the minimum wage and immigration so far this year.
“I feel that we need a complete redefinition of how our democratic system works,” he said. “We’ve lived for centuries with the idea that we send a representative to Westminster and they will make decisions on our behalf and be judged every four of five years at a General Election.
“I don’t think that system has served us very well. What Ukip is going to propose is something radical.
“We will commit in our manifesto to direct democracy. The way to trigger a national referendum would be five per cent of the electorate to sign up to a validated petition – or 2.3 million people.
“To mobilise and organise that many people over four or five months would not lead to us having frivolous referendums – it would show that there was a disconnect between how the Government was moving and public opinion on big issues.”
Mr Farage added that such a move would be a “valuable safety net” for when “the political class have got too far out of touch with public opinion”. He suggested that if such a measure had been place in the past it would have helped to prevent British involvement in foreign military interventions such as Iraq and Libya.
“Most of those have made the world a far less safe place than it was before and I suspect if we had direct democracy we would not have bombed Libya and would not even have considered getting to heavily involved in Syria.”
Mr Farage said the party would also campaign to give voters the power to “recall” MPs without the prior approval of Parliament and for the introduction of a written constitution.
He said he could not “pretend for one moment that Ukip will form the next Government” but added that that the party might be in a position to “effect what is in the manifestos of the other parties” and might even be in a position where there are “deals to be done” if the party does well at the next election.