David Cameron: EU referendum bill shows only Tories listen


David Cameron: "It's not voting against the Queen's Speech"

David Cameron has said only his party is offering a "clear choice" about the UK's future in Europe after the Tories published a draft bill outlining plans for a referendum by the end of 2017.

The prime minister said the Liberal Democrats and Labour were not willing to listen to the public on the issue.

Mr Cameron says he has shown leadership on the issue but critics say he is being dictated to by his backbenchers.

MPs will seek to force a vote on the issue of a referendum on Wednesday.

The Conservatives have published a bill aimed at reassuring the party's MPs that, if they win the next election, the party will fulfil the PM's commitment earlier this year to let the public have their say on the UK's future in Europe.

The bill states that voters would be asked the question "do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?" in a referendum to be held no later than 31 December 2017.

Many Tories were unhappy plans for an in-out EU referendum were not mentioned in the Queen's Speech - which lays out the government's plans for the next year.

'Compelling choice'

But, speaking in the US - where he is on a three day-visit - Mr Cameron said this was not possible because his Lib Dem coalition partners opposed such a step.

Asked whether he had consulted his deputy Nick Clegg before publishing the bill, Mr Cameron said he had discussed the whole issue of the UK's future relationship with the EU "in quite a lot of detail".

"It is well known that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats do not agree about Europe," he said.

"We want a renegotiation, they don't, we want an in-out referendum, they don't.

Start Quote

The publishing of a draft bill looks like an exercise in what Mrs Thatcher used to call 'followership not leadership'. ”

End Quote

"When the dust settles on this, what people will see is one party, the Conservative Party, offering this very clear, very compelling choice in the national interest, reforming the EU, changing the Britain's relationship with it and giving people the chance of an in-out referendum.

"And the other two main parties saying they don't want to listen to the views of the people on this issue. That is the truth of... what is actually under debate at the moment."

Some Conservative MPs have suggested the prime minister is pursuing the wrong strategy while one, Philip Hollobone, said No 10 had been "in chaos" over the issue in the past few days amid open divisions in the party about whether the UK should remain in the EU or leave.

Up to 100 Conservative MPs could support an amendment to the Queen's Speech on Wednesday, signalling their "regret" that legislation paving the way for a future referendum was not in the programme.

But their actions have been described as "lunatic" and "offensive" by veteran Conservative MP Nicholas Soames.

"This is the most fundamental and important decision this country will have to take for the next generation," he told BBC Radio 4's PM.

"It is isn't just about adding some silly little clause to the Queen's Speech - an entirely, in my view, improper thing to do in the first place."


The prime minister said it was a "complete misconception" to suggest the MPs were opposing the Queen's Speech as a whole by tabling the amendment, and repeated his position that he was "relaxed" about how backbenchers voted.

Ministers, including several who have said they would vote to leave the EU if a referendum was held now, will be required to abstain although the amendment is unlikely to pass because Labour and the Lib Dems are set to vote against.


  • MPs put names into a ballot
  • Normally the first seven drawn are given a day's debate for their bill
  • Most private members' bills - lacking government support - do not become law
  • There have to be at least 100 MPs backing a bill to ensure it clears the first few hurdles
  • But one with the backing of Tory ministers but not Lib Dems would be likely to fail to get a majority unless a decent chunk of Labour MPs back it

No 10 has dismissed any comparisons between Mr Cameron and former Prime Minister Sir John Major, whose government was damaged by ongoing rows about Europe during the 1990s.

Mr Cameron said he was the first party leader in "30, 40 years" to offer the public a choice on the UK's membership of the EU on the basis of a "reassessment" of what is in the country's national interest.

"The whole reason we are having this debate is because of the act of leadership I took to say it is time now for Britain to renegotiate our relationship, to seek change in Europe and seek a referendum for that change."

The draft legislation could be brought to the Commons for debate by one of the party's backbench MPs in the form of a private member's bill, rather than one sponsored by the government.

The ballot to choose who can bring forward private members' bills will be held on Thursday and, although they have little chance of becoming law, there is non-government parliamentary time open to them to be debated.


Labour says committing to hold a referendum in four years' time is not the "right choice" for the country and internal Tory "machinations" are causing uncertainty at a time when securing economic recovery should be the government's priority.

Start Quote

It could be the worst solution to change Europe”

End Quote Bernard Kouchner French foreign minister

"Our agenda is reform and change within Europe, not exit from the European Union," said shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander.

The Lib Dems said the government had already legislated to seek public approval before any further powers were handed to Brussels, and accused their coalition partners of "navel-gazing" over Europe.

The UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage - who campaigns for a UK exit - described the proposed draft bill as "nothing more than gesture politics".

Former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner suggested Mr Cameron wanted to stay in the EU and the draft bill was "a political manoeuvre" in response to UKIP's success in recent elections.

He acknowledged Brussels was being held responsible for Europe's economic ills and was extremely unpopular in France itself, but urged countries not "to throw the baby out with the bathwater".

"Don't play with the referendum," he told Radio 4's World Tonight. "It could be the worst solution to change Europe. We have to convince the people. We need Europe."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    In terms of any referendum I do think that if we are to leave then it must be based on a real majority voting us out , with status quo remaining unless we vote for something else. Cannot be out on 51% of a 25% turnout in my view. Make voting compulsory.
    What I cannot understand is the objection to a referendum - everyone should have the chance to say yes or no.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Cameron has missed the boat on this issue. The public don't want the question of should they be in or out they want the VOTE to stay in or get out. Cameron's spin question leaves the politicians with the choice and not the public. He has lost the public now, too weak,, too little too late. He didn't stand up to Sarkosy and Merkel 18 months ago and the rot set in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    It's pointless discussing this subject any further Dave! You have simply got to face reality sooner or later... there just isn't that many pain loving masochists living in the UK!

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Didn't this goat make the same promise before the last election as well?

    Why aren't these politicians fired and jailed when they don't perform their jobs and break the laws?

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    It is about time Britain like Germany committed to Europe and not America. Has this country forgotten the war

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    In 1975 we voted to join Europe on the basis of hope and promises as to how life would be. In retrospect it hasn't been a good experience for the UK. A lot of expense, loss of manufacturing, controlled by a central governing body of self servers and the banks. It's utter rubbish to say we would not be better off out of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    No Dave you've had to offer a referendum because people are voting UKIP instead of Tory

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Why can’t we just have a Referendum during this Parliament & get it done with?
    All this hanging around is bound to create uncertainty in the business community & their long term plans.
    I’m beginning to think Davy is putting the Tory Party’s best interests before the UK – surely not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    I am no Tory voter, I was Lib Dem but because of the betrayal of them in the coalition never again, UKIP no for they are hypocrites too, why when UKIP want independence from the EU, do they field candidates and have MEPs. They want independence then don't take part in the European Elections. Except for the Gravy Train I see no reason for them to be there. We need this referendum before May 2015.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    It is fixed. A few years ago the nuclear option in/out was a threat by the Lib Dims as all they would back, to sneak out of their, and Labour's promised referendum on the Lisbon treaty alone. They all know most people want out of all parts not free trade related. So carefully engineer not to give us what we want. Labour loves immigrants, taking their voters's jobs, so have no leg to stand on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Oh Dave, you are such an embarrassment strutting around the USA acting like you are the leader of a country, but he cannot not even lead his own party

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Dave, you know you have blown it, you promised this referendum years ago, Gove & others want out, time for some real leadership, referendum now!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    What about Labour voters like me who want a vote on the EU I will not vote tory on principle? Come Ed get off the fence & lets get out of this EU mess its doing immense harm to working class people with it's loony free movement policies or me & many others are voting UKIP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Our referendum is 2015 when we vote UKIP for Government and say no to the EU! The EU cost us loads of money as regular people, the longer we are in it the broker we get. It is effecting everybody's daily life for the worse, unless you have a well paid or very high skilled job then your okay!

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    The EU, almost worth £50 million a day.
    Just to watch the Tory party tear itself apart.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    Utterly ludicrous (and meaningless) question to be asked:

    "Do you thing the [UK] should.....?" is NOT the same as "Do you want the UK to....?

    The intended question will give NO mandate for any action by the then Government!

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    105. ashto5
    66. paulmerhaba

    Whats the use of a building full of muppets?
    Thanks for taking the time to reply, i cannot see how this bill takes us anywhere nearer a vote on the EU and is in reality a political game.
    We will not get a vote, those who pull the politicians strings, whatever party, just will not allow it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    I voted for the common market back in 75, but I didn't vote for the European market to take over the running of the UK by the back door. The EU is nothing but a cash cow, no audits done in the last 20 years, and no accountability to the public ,that pay huge amounts of money into it. Get out now, and lets save money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Does this man really think we, the voters, are that stupid?
    If so, it's a damn insult.
    The only reason the EU referendum is at the top of the bill, is growing support for UKIP and the fear that the tories will lose the next election, and this bunch of losers will have to find a real job.

    Sorry Dave, Conservative and listening in the same sentence is an oxymoron.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    It's not possible for a government to put in law something that the next government must do. Just another example of David Camoron misleading the public.


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