EU referendum: MPs call for public to have their say


James Wharton: "This has got the full backing of David Cameron and the Conservative Party leadership"

Conservative MPs have led calls for the public to have their say in a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union.

James Wharton, whose bill proposes a vote by 2017, said he was "speaking for millions of people" in the country.

He said "public sentiment" about Europe had changed and fresh consent for the UK's membership was "long overdue".

Labour said the Tories were "talking to themselves" while the Lib Dems branded the bill a "complete stunt".

MPs backed Mr Wharton's private member's bill at second reading - the first time it has been debated - by 304 votes to 0 although only a handful of Labour MPs took part as they and the Lib Dems boycotted the vote en masse.

'One step closer'

After the unanimous vote, Mr Cameron - who was in the Commons chamber for much of the debate - wrote on Twitter: "Referendum Bill passes first Commons stage, bringing us one step closer to giving the British people a say on Europe."

Although it has passed its first parliamentary hurdle, the bill will face much stronger opposition later and its passage through Parliament is far from guaranteed.

Douglas Alexander: "We do not believe that an in/out referendum in 2017... is in the national interest"

Only five Conservative MPs - Ken Clarke, Sir Richard Shepherd, Jason McCartney, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Gary Streeter - did not vote.

Veteran europhile Mr Clarke and eurosceptic Mr McCartney are away from Westminster for family reasons while Mr Streeter did not take part as he is chairing the committee which will now scrutinise the bill in detail.

Sir Richard spoke during the debate in favour of a referendum while Sir Malcolm said he would have backed it but choose to focus on other important parliamentary work as it was "obvious" that it would pass with a big majority.

Six Labour MPs - Roger Godsiff, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Dennis Skinner, Graham Stringer and Gisela Stuart - joined Conservatives in the yes lobby calling for a referendum.

Opening the debate, Mr Wharton - MP for Stockton South - said "power should reside with the people" and that his bill would give the public a "real choice" on the UK's future in Europe within a "sensible timeframe".

"We should trust the British public to have their say," he told MPs, adding that recent public votes on the electoral system and devolution for Scotland, Wales showed "we live in the age of the referendum".

"We have had so many referendums on so many things," he said. "It would seem to be farcical to deny a say on such an important thing which matters to so many people."

'Different creature'

Backing Mr Wharton's call, Conservative backbencher Andrew Tyrie said the EU was a "fundamentally different creature" than it was nearly 40 years ago when the public endorsed entry in a referendum.

For the government, William Hague called on "everyone who is a true democrat to unite behind this bill", saying it was "the best chance currently available" for a referendum and to give people "the decisive say which is their right".

There had been four major EU treaties in the past 25 years which had not been subject to a referendum in the UK, the foreign secretary told MPs, and "no institution can survive without the people's support".

He added: "It is the right bill at the right time to give the British people their democratic say on the country's future."

But Mr Alexander said the referendum was predicated on an "arbitrary date" and an "unrealistic and uncertain negotiating strategy" and claimed the issue had become an obsession for the Conservatives.

"Three years in, this is a party still banging on about Europe, a party talking to itself and not the country."

Uncertain passage

The prime minister's promise of a referendum by the end of 2017, following a renegotiation of the UK's relationship with Brussels, cannot be made law in the form of a government bill because of Lib Dem opposition.

Mr Wharton - the youngest Conservative in the Commons - agreed to propose the legislation after he came top in a ballot of MPs and after Tory MPs pushed for the referendum commitment to be made binding before the 2015 election.

Private members bills traditionally have little chance of becoming law unless they are backed by the government and the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said the legislation could easily be derailed by its opponents in the Commons and the Lords.

But the Conservatives believed they were making a "powerful political point", he added.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who did not take part in the debate, told the BBC it was a "complete stunt" and the government had already passed legislation to guarantee a referendum in the event of further powers being handed to Brussels.

He told Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show that the time for a referendum was when the "rules of the game" changed and when "new things were asked of the UK" in terms of its relationship with the EU.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said a "passionate" referendum campaign would "wake up" the country.

"I want friendship, co-operation and trade (with the EU). I don't want to be part of a political union," he told the BBC. "I don't find it acceptable that 75% of our laws are now made by the institutions of Brussels."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    @590. You are so right.Germany is indeed a fairer society.They have a strong social responsibility,are relatively classless and rate any individual on what they have achieved but it's different from here. Germans will respect & value a good bricklayer, mechanic or painter thru his excellence in what he does.Every 'craftsman' from top to bottom is valued & appreciated.All labour is honourable

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    #591 brief

    -Have lived in UK and North America -and traveled.

    -- Can only agree.

    -- with 80 million population --the success of Germany is unbelievable --for those who know many other countries --with louder voices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    591.A brief aside
    I assume you would vote to stay in the EU! (if the referendum takes places during the 6 months your in the UK!). If you would vote "Yes!" then that kinda validates my conclusion that anyone happy/successful wants to stay in the EU and only unhappy/unsuccessful people want to leave the EU! I don't now how leaving the EU to 'please' unhappy/unsuccessful people would help the UK!

  • rate this

    Comment number 594.

    Before I vote for the conservatives;
    what powers do we want back?
    what do we need control of that we would be happy staying in?
    Will we still need to pass the EU laws to keep trading with them?
    Will companies investing in the EU stop setting up shop in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    Lot's of presumptions being made here along Churchill's lines about the Empire/Commonwealth - remember, England is not Britain and it seems only England has the problem with the EU.. If Labour party policy continues to be 'Tory lite' then Scotland will vote for independence, and retain it's existence within the EU as it's historically closer to Europe anyway. If England votes out, its stuffed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 592.

    It is simply impossible to make a rational choice now, or at any point in the future, on something that what will affect the country forever thereafter.

    What we really need is a rolling option of staying in or leaving as the ongoing situation dictates - or a crystal ball now.

    Hence, all 'rational' talk is completely meaningless and self-delusionary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 591.

    Thankfully I have a home in the UK and one in Europe. I spend roughly six months in each every year. Whilst the Eurozone has serious problems life in the northern EU is better in most ways than that in the UK. Cheaper property, better roads & transport, better health service, superior food, open frontiers, less 'yobs' and the list is endless. Sorry but it's true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.

    #581 A brief aside

    "but afterwards they know how to have fun."

    -- Can only verify your comments.

    -- they demand justified rewards from their government and industries --and get them !

    --the most fair society I have lived in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 589.

    577 DM

    "MH, in your comment 533, you brought the Romans into this blog, saying how wonderful they were while we still lived in caves"

    This is what I actually said:

    "or as Romans traded with the known world while we were still in caves?"

    when you said that we were different from other countries because we were a trading nation looking outwards

    Scraping the barrel again?

  • rate this

    Comment number 588.

    575. A referendum (if we choose to stay out) has one massive benefit; we the people of this island get to choose our own destiny. We have a government close enough to be afraid of us.

    That's how it should be.

    Gandhi "there is no people on Earth who would not prefer their own bad government to the good government of an alien power."

    No people except the pro-EU camp of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 587.

    Lets stop all this political nonsense and point scoring and just have a referendum now, at least then we and the rest of the world know what we are doing and can then plan accordingly and thus get on with our lives.
    These MPs do not live in the real world and to be honest I think we should have a general election now and sort this mess out and the corrupt MPs with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 586.

    @580. Not quite true. We all destroyed British industry and our industrial base by choosing to buy foreign made products because they were better designed, better made & offered longer guarantees. Cars, consumer durables, power tools and so on. I haven't bought anything significant made in the UK for years. So we screwed British industry thru personal self interest. Did we do right or wrong?

  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    EU: "Here we go?"

    For politicians made Quislings of Mammon, there IS one thing worse than national ruin & its international contagion, and that is salvation - for nation & planet - found in understanding & agreement on enduring equal partnership, the ending of unfair competition, conflict of interest, and corruption: rule, instead, of conscience, of real democracy, Of, For, By, The EQUAL People

  • rate this

    Comment number 584.


    The idea that europe was conceived as a money making racket is simply too far removed from reality for most people to believe.

    A little basic research however, reveals the truth.

    And the saddling of the many wannabe euronations with huge and unrelenting loans by Amschels crowd prove that the racket is alive and more profitable than ever.

    Its a huge concept that most cannot compute.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 583.

    569. Ted Heath and the Tories started the ball rolling by getting us in under false pretences. They didn't have a mandate to do that either

    You could say why have a referendum on EU membership at all? That treaty was null and void to begin with. Maybe the referendum should just be for EFTA membership. After all that's basically what the people voted for in 1975 and the only mandate ever given.

  • rate this

    Comment number 582.

    536 Yarmot

    "We begged to be allowed to join the EU.

    Erm, no we didn't as the EU did not exist"

    Organisations, like people, evolve or die

    Are you the same person as you were forty years ago?

    The whole world has changed beyond all recognition in the last few decades with the BRICs emerging and challenging the old world order

  • rate this

    Comment number 581.

    @553. I hate to say it but having lived there modern Germany is a much better country than the UK in every sense. Moreover, Germans deserve their success. They are well educated, highly trained, hard working & determined to succeed. Germany just seems to 'click'. Everything works & does so efficiently. Work is always a serious business but afterwards they know how to have fun. We can learn from G.

  • rate this

    Comment number 580.

    It was not the honest British industrial workers that destroyed Britain -- it was the dishonest non-industrial workers -- many of whom never did an honest days work in their lives-- sitting at their City desks and computers.

    --destroying everything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 579.

    It seems that the core issue is what is best for the United Kingdom? Monetary economics is all about careful study of the system & generation of revenue in different ways. Many countries in the 17 listed members of the EU rely on the single European currency. A referendum (2017) to evaluate, democratic opinion should confirm our currency as £ sterling, which can continue to earn internationally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 578.

    561 Margaret Howard. It is the British gov. that has chosen to have closed boarders. When I first started crossing the channel in 2005 you could still go both ways without showing a passport, It has gradually got stricter on the British side and now the French are following suit, I think they are offended by the British attitude. Last time I went to France, in January, my passport wasn't checked.


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