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 114.

    Dear Mr Cameron

    Why are you trying to force the opinion of central government onto the people of this country? As a supposed standard bearer for localism, you appear to have lost track of the concept that we decide what we want and then you make it happen. If you rig the result with a 3-line whip then we'll put up petition after petition on the subject.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Migration to the UK from countries within the EU is too high. Yes there is some migration out of UK, but the numbers of people coming into the UK far outweighs this. It will only get worse with when other countries join the EU with a new wave of migration and an increasing strain on employment in the UK. If Mr Cameron truly believed in democracy then he would not stand in the way of a referendum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    There appears to be valid points here for a Referendum for the UK to vote YES/NO on withdrawing UK Membership of the European Union.

    So, let's have it then - the same question/vote/same date in - England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Why not? Job done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    It will mean however that we can freely deport illegal immigrants without Brussels breathing down our back.


    Brussels has nothing whatsoever to do with stopping the UK deporting illegal aliens (the clue is in the word "illegal"). With this amount of misinformation is it any wonder you're not felt able to make an informed decision?

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Regardless of whether we want to be "in" Europe or "out", the feeling amongst the great majority of Britons is that we need a referendum. It is therefor not for politicians to place their own preferences above those of their electorate. We were sold our Gov't as being "rule of the people, by the people, for the people". Dave, remember the last bit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    I cannot see the problem. We were promised a referendum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    As we allegedly have a democracy and people want a referendum, it is very wrong of Cameron to try to impose his will to block a referendum. Such an act implies that Cameron is trying to protect his own interests - what are they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    ".Clive Bailey
    Brussels just told the Irish they were wrong so vote again."

    Wrong. Brussels and Ireland negotiated the parts of Lisbon that most concerned the voters in Ireland and put the renegotiated terms to Ireland. Why is that unreasonable? Should one sate stop ratification for the other 26 if chnages they want can be incorporated?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    92. Poddy100

    Why not just give everybody the information for both sides of the arguement, and then allow us to come to our own conclusion. We managed it with the last vote (on voting).


    Yes, you gave your political masters the electoral system they wanted to keep. You must be very proud.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    40% of our trade is apparently placed with the EU. 40% of a declining and indebted market would make any business look to alternate markets. Our government seems to believe that our current course is the right course. Essentially our customers are going bust but we put our head in the sand and even give them our money so we can keep trading.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    They are pushing for this now as all they would need to do to win the arguement is say look at the state of Greece and probably vote out as Nick Clegg wants to stay in.
    People will never be provided with the full facts and even if they were I don't have much faith that a great part of the general public are able to think for themselves hence why Rupert Murdoch was seen as the kingmaker.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I would vote to come out of the EU because we have been misled over the years on a number of issues the main one being the 'open door policy' that has allowed us to become far too over populated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    I seem to remember the PM promising that if the Conservatives become the new government then they would offer a referendum. Now I do not know if because it is a coalition with the Lib Dems who oppose leaving the EU if this is the reason he does not support this. I think however there should be a referendum as this is a big deal and if we choose to stay, stay, if not then leave or change our rules.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Cameron wants referendum

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    "Andrew Maund
    We can still be in a trade agreement with the EU, for purposes of TRADE."

    Yes, it would require us still to implement all EU laws and regulations (just as Norway, Switzerland do) but have no say in setting them. However, that would still not stop the likes of France "quality checking" our exports to ensure they meet those standards adding cost and delays to exporters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    One argument that will be certainly be used against a referendum will be that of cost. The widely hated EU costs us £40 MILLION per day. Westminster is almost superflous as we are governed by the unelected EU commission. Taxation without representation is already here.The EU is clearly starting to collapse and the further we are away from it the better. Return to democracy please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    "The good thing about a debate on europe is that many of the euromyths....will be shown for the misinformed brain farts that they are."
    Ok, puncture a few of these myths:
    -Strasbourg Junket?
    -Referendum re-votes whenever the 'wrong' answer is given?
    -Unelected European Commission?
    -Accounts so bad they cannot be signed off?
    -Precedence over British law?

    Over to you..

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    I get the feeling some of these Europhiles want us to have open borders too.

    That tells you all you need to know about them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    We must be allowed to make decisions which are in the best interest of Britain, being part of the EU does not allow that. And 40 million pounds a day to be part of the EU?. Is our government incapable of running the country without being part of the EU. We can still do business with all country's without being part of the European union.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    I for one view Europe as the number one issue facing the country over and above even the economy."

    Then you are behaving irrationally. The EU actually has far less power than you appear to think (the Eurozone crisis proves: it has failed to act quickly, decisively with authoritativeness: the nation state is clearly alive and well). Leaving the EU would not fix perceived sovereignty issues.


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