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 157.

    Add your comment...138.Luther_Wesley-Baxter
    17 Minutes ago
    The British people must vote No to the coming United States of Europe monster. Otherwise our freedoms will gradually disappear.


    I think you'll find its the Tories & UKIP who want to withdraw from the Human Rights Act & have no plans to replace those protections with anything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    How many thousands of hours have the tories wasted on this while how many minutes have they spent on the issue of Scotland's referendum on independence?

    Like a swivel eyed loon who will vote against Europe there are many patriotic scots who will vote for independence no matter the consequences.
    Their numbers will swell looking at the jokers debating this nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    @119. The most sensible posting yet! Simply leaving the EU doesn't transform any of our fundamental economic problems. Keeping the good bits but discarding the bad isn't an option. The most sane policy would be to ally ourselves with the largest economic power/contributor and seek a renegotiation. France & Germany are no longer bosom pals. I hear similar things said here and in Germany.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    The 'Litle Englanders' sometime known as the Conservative and Unionist Party, are becoming a bit if a joke. Their claim that we will be better off ouside the EU, better than what? I thought Cameron was focussed on the economy, obviously not he has so much spare time that he attended todays Ltiile Englanders publicity stunt. Are they trying to justify a 30% payrise - what a shower

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    What I want to know is why we don't have a referendum on the Magna Carta? It seems to be the basis of most everything that rules our lives in the UK yet nobody alive has ever had a say in it. Funny how you never hear our swivel eyed Foreign Secretary mentioning this curious fact when he is moaning on about the need to have a fresh vote on every EU treaty on a weekly basis. Twit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Got a busy day today got to go to house of Parliament to vote, hard work but heard the lobster and champagne will be good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    The whole exercise is pointless! Like Denmark earlier and Ireland more recently, we will simply vote and vote again untill we get it right. i.e. give the answer THEY want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.


    "Yep...we need a visionary, a man of moral standing and ideology, a man who can steer Britain through these dark waters...Ed Milli HAHAHAHA"

    I quite agree with you. Ed Milligram is another of the idiots with no vision for the future of the country other than to protect an MP's salary and influence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    The EU is an imploding socialist experiment that has gone so wrong in politicians hands we voted for seven members within a common market not a European socialist state nor hoards of economic migrants bent on destroying our welfare state,blocking up housing,and school places

  • Comment number 148.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    The arrogance of these politicians makes my blood boil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    WHY are the Labour and Lib-Dems so scared of giving the public a vote?
    Is it because of all the political jobs that will be lost when we vote to leave?

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    I think they are afraid, as people will chose to opt out of EU.

    Therefore the referendum isn’t happening

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.


    "If all the idiots with no vision for the future of Britain get their way the British Isles will be like an enormous turd floating off the beaches of Europe and David Cameron and the other idiots will just sit on trying to polish it"

    Yep...we need a visionary, a man of moral standing and ideology, a man who can steer Britain through these dark waters...Ed Milli HAHAHAHA

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    @124. Not really.WW11 was long ago and it's only us Brits who remember it like yesterday. The last great national enterprise we didn't cock up. Sad really. As to funding the EU yes we pay into the CAF but benefit from 60% of our exports going into Europe. The economic arguments either way aren't that conclusive. Membership really hinges on the political & constitutional. I'm pro a renegotiated EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    not one single person in the UK had a vote on if we should be in the EU,
    as far as I recollect we joined a common market, not a European union , so why are we in it anyway, it costs this country far more than its get back from it , all this country is doing is paying for every other country . I do think its about time this government grew a spine and listened to its people , GET US OUT NOW

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    The only chance Cameron has of being elected at the next General Election is to have an E U Referendum on the same day. I don't believe he will have a referendum if elected.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    120. SpacedOne

    And yet again someone proves why the public are too ignorant of the facts for a meaningful referendum based on informed choice. The ECHR has nothing whatsoever to do with being a member of the EU. It's an organisation we are a signatory of seperate to being a signatory of the EU.

    Ready to eat humble pie?

    You cannot be in the EU if you are not a signatory to the ECHR.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Does the referendum dabate not tell us something about how our politicians view democracy in the nation. Most pro EU MPs do not want a referendum and leaving aside their trumped up reasons for not having oneit is because they fear they will noyt get the answer they seek. Democracy is about the will of the majority not the views of a few largley self appointed spokespeople. Shame on you all

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    The British people must vote No to the coming United States of Europe monster. Otherwise our freedoms will gradually disappear.


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