EU referendum: MPs told to vote against Monday's motion

EU and national flags at Strasbourg David Cameron will attend the EU debate after the date was brought forward

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The three big parties at Westminster have told their MPs to vote against a motion calling for a referendum to be held on UK membership of the EU.

The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour will all ask their MPs to oppose the move at a debate on Monday.

A Tory MP is calling on his colleagues to back an amendment which would delay a referendum until the UK had renegotiated its position in the EU.

The idea is being seen as an attempt to head off a rebellion by up to 60 MPs.

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.

'Country first'

Conservative MPs are expected to face a three-line whip - not yet confirmed - which would require any in government jobs to follow the party line and vote against the motion or to resign their posts.

Start Quote

What matters is that backbench MPs of all parties should be free to vote in accordance with our beliefs ”

End Quote Graham Brady Conservative MP

One MP, Stewart Jackson, has already said he intends to vote for the motion even if it costs him his job as a parliamentary private secretary, saying: "Some things are more important than party preferment."

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.

David Cameron has argued he shares MPs' frustrations with the costs and bureaucracy involved in EU membership, but would oppose calls for a vote on whether to quit, saying it "is not our policy".

In response to a question from Tory backbencher Mark Pritchard on Wednesday, the PM said "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."

Compromise suggested

Mr Pritchard told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was willing to defy a three-line whip if necessary.

"This is about country first, party second and career last," he said.

He added: "This is not about necessarily the terms of a particular bill... or a future referendum, it's fundamentally about freedom, it's about democracy and it's about the legitimacy of the European project."

Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of Conservative MPs, said, in an article in the Daily Telegraph, that "this is a backbench debate and there is no need for ministers to participate".

"What matters is that backbench MPs of all parties should be free to vote in accordance with our beliefs and in the interests of our constituents," he added.

In what is seen as an attempt to broker a compromise, Tory MP George Eustice has tabled an amendment urging the government to reconfigure its relationship with the EU - returning certain powers to Westminster - before putting the issue to the public.

Mr Eustice, David Cameron's former press secretary, said the initiative was "not yet" backed by the government but he urged MPs of all parties to support it and suggested it "more closely reflected the views" of most Conservative MPs compared to Mr Nuttall's motion.

"The advantage of having a referendum after the renegotiation rather than before is that the public would then be able to judge whether or not the government had succeeded and this would put pressure on the government to negotiate forcefully," he said.

'Collision course'

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the prospect of a referendum would create further "economic uncertainty" and urged David Cameron to "show leadership" rather than make concessions to his backbenchers.

"It (a referendum) is not the right thing for Britain," he said. "It is not the right thing for jobs. It is not the right thing for growth."

Mr Miliband's stance has been criticised by Labour MP Graham Stringer who said backbenchers should be free to vote in any way as the debate had been organised by the Commons backbench business committee rather than the government or the opposition leadership.

Mr Stringer, who says he will vote for the motion, accused all three party leaders of making a "mistake" at a time when the public were "clearly aching for a say on Europe".

"Now is the time to give people a choice about whether they want to stay in the European Union," he told the Today programme.

And the UK Independence Party, which campaigns for the UK to leave the EU, said the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem leaders were "out of step" with the British public.

"By forcing their MPs to vote against an EU referendum, they have set them on a collision course with the electorate. It has become the people versus the politicians," their leader Nigel Farage said.

The debate has been brought forward by three days to allow Mr Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague to attend. They were both due to miss the original date on 27 October because of a trip to Australia for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson says the prime minister wants to be in parliament for the debate so he can look his backbenchers in the eye and tell them: "Don't do this."

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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  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I'm not sure the UK should completly leave the EU but somthing has to be done, but i am not sure leaving it is the right answer. If the UK leaves trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could be affected.Westminster will need to provide extra funding to the three local governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Perhaps the terms of our membership should change instead?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    18.David Bale
    How much does it cost per day £ 500 millions - How is this - A Duty of Care.
    If you're trying to say that being in the EU costs the UK half a billion pounds a day, you are wrong. It's around £40-50 million per day. Spurting incorrect statements just gives the pro-EU drones more ammunition when saying “You don’t know what you’re on about”.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Should my MP "Kris Hopkins" decide to vote against a referendum then he will have me and plenty more actively campaigning against him in Keighley. Beware the powers of the Voters Mr Hopkins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    It's about time to, we have waited for such a moment when the public could decide if we should remian in the EU or not. This change of plan could work in our favour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I've just signed up with the People's Pledge - surely they can't ignore us forever?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.


    For the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg should remember what he said in 2008. "We've been signed up to Europe by default: two generations who have never had their say."

    Also remember the libdems are EU federalists, they’d have us in a federal EU now if they could.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    This vote might as well of been done last week as you've already been told what the result will be, ask Mr Cameron you know him the one that cares for the people and listens to the people! The only people he listens to are his chums in the city! Never trust Politicians!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    It is interesting how people can make such claims as "it's not what the people want". A petition of 100,000 does not necessarily speak for the 60 million people of the UK. What concerns me is the empahsis by Nadhim Zahawi on taking back powers on employment laew and social legislation. It seems to me that it is in these areas that the EU has done most to improve the average citizen of the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I want a referendum as much as all those who believe the EU is not what we voted for in 1975 - even then it was only 67-33 in favour. So , one third didnt want it back then, what price now?

    But in Dave's defence - withdrawal from the EU is not Tory party policy, and that is what needs to change, not forcing them into a referendum on EU membership when it isn't in their manifesto.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    When have MPs ever voted in light of their electorate's wishes?
    How do they establish ALL of their electorate's wishes?

    Personally, I hope there is a Referendum, at some point, though not right now, because the UK needs strong and united Government, not this sideshow.

    And I suspect, when given the chance, the British will vote to stay in the EU, with or without a Review of our terms of entry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    We want out!, we want out!, we want out! ..........and so on....

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    My Tory MP has already been told my vote will transfer to UKIP if he votes against a referendum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    When, oh when are our leaders going to listen to the public. There is a ground swell out there of discontent with the EU. I am also a life long Conservative voter but unless we get a referendum on our involvement with the EU then UKIP will certainly get my vote next time!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The BBC keep treating this story as a party political issues when it is very different and goes to the heart of what democracy means in Britain.

    Parliament, all of the main political parties, will probably say no to a referendum. They will decide that the British people are wrong and the party is right.

    So then what is democracy and what is parliament?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I would be happy for them to vote for a referendum on the EU - BUT only after the public get a non partisan version of the EU - There is nothing but misinformation in the media - That misinformation has been going since at least the 70's - I love the human rights one that goes around - People understand one thing - We the UK created the Human rights legislation years ago nothing to do with Europe!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    If the EU is so great and we would be so daft to leave, why don't the pro's have confidence in their ability to win a vote?
    Oh, still have not heard a word of apology from the halfwits that dreamt up the Euro currency, which has dragged the world into this mess!
    Not their fault? really? All the countries that are struggling were 'economical' with the truth about their finances when they applied.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I was under the impression - mistakenly it seems, the The Government were elected on the basis of showing - A Duty of Care - to the Country and The Electorate.

    If the Prime Minister is going to ban - a reforendum on E.U. Membership - then this cannot be - A Duty of Care !

    How much does it cost per day £ 500 millions - How is this - A Duty of Care.
    More a Rich Man's Dogma - so favoured by Tories

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Total disconnection from us, no better than Brown.

    There's never going to be a right time to take this issue on, but we need to get the message out that we are not committed to a federal Europe.

    If being on the inside influencing the eu is what got us here, we either have no influence, or our politicians and officials are out of control.

    Have the debate with us, tell us the facts, now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Labour MPs support a Referendum SURPRISE!

    Do they support this because they want the British to have a Vote? NO!

    Do they support this because they are certain the British will vote in favour of EU membership? NO!

    Do they support this to try and split the Tories, put more pressure on Cameron and force an election? YES!

    Will this benefit UK? NO

    Is this to further Moribund's ambition? YES

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Diversionary claptrap.


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