Labour MPs 'urged to stay away from EU referendum vote'

Houses of Parliament Labour MPs will be encouraged to miss the vote, while Tories will be ordered to back the bill

Labour MPs will not take part in a vote next month over Conservative plans for an in-out referendum on the EU in 2017.

A Conservative backbencher's private member's bill on the issue is due to get its second reading on 5 July.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband believes that it is a gimmick and will urge his MPs to stay away from the vote, says the BBC's James Landale.

The Conservatives said it showed Mr Miliband was "too weak to give his MPs, let alone the public, a say".

If Labour abstains, James Wharton's bill paving the way for a referendum should easily pass its first Commons hurdle - known as its Second Reading.

'A political stunt'

However, Labour are expected to oppose it at later stages when it becomes more vulnerable to delay and filibuster - when MPs attempted to block legislation by taking up time with lengthy speeches.

The bill - which will be published next week - would enshrine in law the Conservatives' promise that an in-out EU referendum would be held in 2017.

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The crucial point is that it does not matter whether or not this bill becomes law... what matters is who wins the battle for public opinion”

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Although it is a private member's bill, it has the full support of Downing Street.

A Labour source said: "This private member's bill is a gimmick. It is a political stunt. It is for that reason that we will not be voting for the bill at Second Reading.

"The prime minister has been forced into this position. He has been conned by his backbenchers and so for us this is a political stunt that we will not be involved in it.

"I expect very few Labour MPs to be there. Ed will be doing other things."

The source added: "This bill will not pass. It will not become legislation. We are 100% confident of that."

But Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said: 'We want to allow the British people to decide our European future with an in-out referendum and we want to turn this commitment into law.

"Ed Miliband has made clear yet again that he is too weak to give his MPs, let alone the public, a say.

"We know there are Labour MPs who want that referendum and we would urge them to ignore their weak leader, back our bill and let Britain decide."

Eurosceptic Mr Wharton topped a ballot of backbenchers in May which allows him to introduce his own legislation. Downing Street has said Conservative MPs will be under a three-line whip, the strongest order a party can give, to support it.

The bill originated as a draft bill published by David Cameron to reassure his backbenchers, ahead of a vote by Eurosceptics "regretting" the lack of mention of a referendum in the Queen's Speech.

It could not be a government bill as it is not supported by the Liberal Democrats.

But Dominic Moffitt, of the Labour for a Referendum campaign, said: "Since the Labour Party is not whipping for abstention we hope that all Labour MPs who support a referendum will vote for one on 5 July."

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