EU referendum bill to be put before MPs

A BILL to allow a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union will be put before MPs with the full backing of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister David Cameron.

David Cameron: Saved by Labour deal on gay marriage. Picture: AP

The private members’ bill, to be put forward by Stockton South MP James Wharton, will be the one drafted by the Conservatives earlier this week committing the UK to have a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017.

Mr Wharton was one of 116 Tory rebels who voted on amendment to the Queen’s Speech “regretting” there was no draft referendum legislation.

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The move was defeated by 277 votes to 131 as Liberal Democrats and Labour opposed it, but the pressure from Eurosceptics saw Mr Cameron forced to publish wording for a referendum bill on behalf of his party but not the government this week. The bill will not be given government time because the Lib Dems have vetoed it.

And as a private members’ bill it is at risk of being talked out and is likely to be opposed by the Labour and Lib Dem leaderships.

Mr Wharton said: “We have been talking Europe a lot in recent weeks, and it keeps coming to the surface.”

He said his constituents were talking about the cost of living, education, hospitals “and issues that matter to them” but Europe hung over it all, and it was “time we resolved this”.

Downing Street said Mr Cameron was “very pleased” and would ensure the bill was given “the full support of the Conservative Party”.

It has been confirmed that Conservative MPs will be under a three-line whip, the strongest order a party can give, to support the bill which is also likely to be backed by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

The Tory leadership has not ruled out a possible victory with Eurosceptic members of other parties defying their leadership.

Chancellor George Osborne said: “We are going to try to persuade rebel MPs from other parties to back us. And look, when the dust settles people can see that the Conservative Party wants to give the British people an in-out choice on our membership in Europe.”

But Labour shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said the issue showed Mr Cameron has lost control of his party.

Yesterday’s vote came as a YouGov poll found 43 per cent of people believed the UK should not remain in the EU, while 37 per cent said it should.

And Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable attacked his Tory coalition partners as being “self indulgent and reckless” on the issue with the UK still facing economic crisis.