MPs urged to 'seize the moment' in EU vote

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MPs have been called on to vote in favour of an amendment "regretting" that a referendum on Britain's EU membership was not included in the Queen's Speech.

"We should be bold of heart, seize the moment and do what is right by the electorate and the country," urged John Baron, the Conservative MP leading a cross-party group backing the amendment.

He argued that "members from all sides of the House believe the time has now come to give the British people their say on our relationship with the EU".

The amendment came before MPs as part of a debate on the Queen's Speech and the economy on 15 May 2013.

The speaker also selected two other amendments for debate: one from Labour to "regret that the Gracious Speech has no answer to a flatlining economy", and one from Plaid Cymru to regret that a bill implementing the recommendations of the Silk Commission was not included in the speech.

Introducing Labour's amendment, shadow chancellor Ed Balls linked the question of EU membership to the economy: "The Conservative Party seems to have been hijacked by those within its ranks, including those within the Cabinet, determined to leave Britain out of the EU regardless of the impact on investment and jobs."

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne responded that the best option for the British economy is to remain in the EU, but to negotiate in order to create "a Europe that is more globally competitive, more flexible; a Europe that creates jobs and offers its people prosperity and accountability".

'We need to be part of it'

Two prominent commentators on international affairs argued the case for staying in the EU.

Labour's former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett said that anything less than full membership would risk the UK "being bound by EU decisions without having a voice" and that the amendment's signatories were showing a "disregard of our national interest".

Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Richard Ottoway expressed his view that "the British economy is not an isolated beast" and the "European economy needs reform, but we need to be part of it".

But euroscepticism also found a voice on both sides of the House.

Bill Cash, Conservative chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, appealed to colleagues to vote for the amendment, insisting: "This is not just about an abstract theory of sovereignty - it's about the economy, it's about who governs Britain."

Labour MP George Howarth said he supported a referendum since "I don't believe it's healthy for the relationship between the political classes and the country to erode to the extent it is" but that he could not vote for the amendment as it "anticipates a different kind of renegotiation to the one I would support".

Two Lib Dems who spoke in the early stages of the debate chose not to concentrate on the amendment.

Ian Swales focused on tax evasion and Sir Bob Russell on help for pub tenants, but Sir Bob concluded by saying: "Unlike some I will be loyally supporting the Queen's Speech this evening."

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