SNP MPs will reject Eurosceptic Tory moves to introduce an early EU referendum that would take place before Scotland had time to achieve independence from the rest of the UK.
This week, the SNP Westminster group will signal its objection to calls to bring forward the EU poll by voting against Tory rebels, who have been angered by the failure of the Conservative led Government to include a commitment to a referendum in the Queen’s Speech.
The spectacular success of Nigel Farage’s Ukip in this month’s English local elections has reopened long-standing divisions within the Conservative party over Europe.
Eurosceptic Tories have called on their government to bring forward plans to hold an EU referendum from 2017 to before the 2015 General Election. On Tuesday, the Commons will vote on an amendment tabled by Eurosceptic Tories, who were dismayed that last week’s Queen’s Speech did not include an EU referendum bill.
Yesterday, Pete Wishart, the SNP’s constitution spokesman, said: “We don’t want an early referendum. We will not be supporting any Tory rebels when it comes to an amendment which is saying there should be an in/out referendum on Europe.
“There would be no chance whatsoever of us supporting Tory backbenchers in their obsession with getting out of European membership. We are in favour of Scottish independence. We are not interested at all in the Conservative right wing’s plans for a referendum on Europe. For us it is about making sure our country is independent in 2016 and making its own decisions.”
He added: “All this does is expose the tensions that exist within the coalition and more than that the very clear faultline that has never been dealt with in the Conservative Party.”
The indications are that the amendment will not demand legislation for a vote, but will “respectfully regret” that no referendum bill was included in the Queen’s Speech outlining the government’s legislative programme.
Conservatives are to be given a free vote when the amendment is voted on. David Cameron has told his MPs he is unable to bring forward government legislation to enact his pledge to hold a referendum in 2017 because of opposition from the Lib Dems.
The amendment is purely symbolic, but its supporters claim it will help build an unstoppable momentum for a referendum to be held.
Although Cameron has pledged a 2017 referendum, there is a body of opinion in the Eurosceptic wing of the Tory party that wants to hold the poll before 2015.
Tory backers of the amendment include John Baron, Peter Bone and John Redwood, and Nadine Dorries, who has recently returned to the fold six months after losing the whip as a result of her appearance on Celebrity Big Brother.
A series of Tory grandees including Lord Lawson and Michael Portillo have advocated withdrawal and the London Mayor Boris Johnson has said it would not be “cataclysmic” if Britain left the EU. Baron has said the purpose of the amendment is to send a clear message that the demand for a bill was “not going away”.
Divisions over Europe were used yesterday by the Labour leader Ed Miliband to attack the Tories when he spoke at the annual conference of the Blairite Progress group.
He said it would be wrong and damaging to British business to commit to hold an in/out referendum on European Union membership after the next general election.
Miliband accused Cameron of putting efforts to hold the Tory party together over Europe ahead of the national interest. He claimed Cameron was forced into making his promise to hold an in/out referendum in 2017 by his own backbenchers but it would result in “four years of uncertainty” for British businesses.
Miliband insisted the UK should stay inside the EU and press for changes to “make it work better for Britain”.
He said: “I know David Cameron is a man who likes to be known for relaxing –even chillaxing – but, on this occasion, it beggars belief. He’s not lying on the sofa, relaxed. He’s hiding behind the sofa, too scared to confront his own MPs.”
Miliband said: “Cameron may try to out-Farage Farage on Britain’s membership of the European Union. But we will always stand up for the national interest. It is wrong now to commit to an in/out referendum and have four years of uncertainty and a ‘closed for business’ sign above our country.”
Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps responded to Milband’s criticisms saying: “David Cameron will give the British people their say on our future in Europe in an in-out referendum in the next parliament.
“But Ed Miliband has once again made clear he will never trust the British people to have their say – he opposes a referendum. He is too weak to stand up for the British people at home and too weak to stand up for our country’s interests abroad.”