UK Politics

Cameron rejects EU referendum call ahead of MPs debate

  • 19 October 2011
  • From the section UK Politics
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EU and national flags at Strasbourg
Image caption David Cameron says Europe should focus on sorting its own problems out

David Cameron has rejected calls for a referendum on Europe ahead of a Commons debate on the subject next week.

At Prime Minister's Questions, he said he shared MPs' frustrations with how the European Union worked but would oppose calls for a vote on whether to quit the EU as it was "not our policy".

Up to 50 Tory MPs could potentially rebel against the government.

The BBC understands the debate has been brought forward by three days to enable senior ministers to attend.

The debate will now be held on 24 October, not 27 October as originally scheduled.

The government requested the switch because both the prime minister and Foreign Secretary William Hague - who will lead for the government in the debate - will be in Australia at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting between 28 and 30 October.

The government would not be bound by the result of the vote, based on a motion by Tory MP David Nuttall, but it could prove politically tricky for the Conservative leadership.

Mr Nuttall's motion calls for a referendum by May 2013 and says the public should have three options put to them in the nationwide vote - keeping the status quo, leaving the EU or reforming the terms of the UK's membership of the European Union.

In the Commons on Wednesday, Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell said the British people were "crying out" for a referendum and urged the PM to "make history and give the British people the chance to vote on our future with the EU".

In response, Mr Cameron said his focus was on controlling the EU budget, keeping the UK out of any future eurozone bailout schemes and ensuring the single market was functioning properly.

"I completely understand and share the frustration that many have about the way the EU goes about its business, about the costs, about the bureaucracy," he told MPs.

"Of course we, the Conservative Party, are committed to the return of powers from Brussels to Westminster.

"We are also committed as a government that if power passes from Westminster to Brussels, there would have to be a referendum. That promise is good for the whole of this Parliament and beyond.

"But I do not support holding a referendum come what may. That is not our policy and I will not be supporting that motion."

Europe's problems

In response to a similar question from Tory backbencher Mark Pritchard, Mr Cameron added: "The right answer is not to hold a referendum willy-nilly in this Parliament when we have so much to do to get Europe to sort its problems out."

The idea of an in/out referendum has become an increasingly popular idea among Tory backbenchers although some argue that it is a distraction and their party must focus on returning powers to the UK Parliament as soon as possible.

No 10 have indicated all Conservative MPs will be expected to support the government in rejecting the referendum option and uphold the commitment in the coalition agreement to the UK remaining a "positive participant in the European Union".

The BBC's political correspondent Ross Hawkins said plans to impose what is known as a three-line whip had been confirmed at a meeting of the Conservative backbench 1922 committee.

A petition signed by more than 100,000 people, including Conservative and Labour MPs, calling for a referendum was handed into Downing Street last month. Members of the Commons Backbench Business Committee agreed to hold the debate on Monday.

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