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UK EU 2017 membership referendum clears first hurdle but triggers further controversy

Monday, January 13th 2014 - 07:01 UTC
Full article 19 comments
Cameron and Hague accused of “have been hostage by the militant Tory wing” Cameron and Hague accused of “have been hostage by the militant Tory wing”

The Tory plan for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union cleared its first hurdle in the House of Lords last week. The Bill was given an unopposed second reading after a lengthy seven-hour debate in the Lords, in which more than 60 peers spoke.

 But there were warnings from Labor and Liberal Democrat backbenchers that the legislation, which guarantees a vote on EU membership in 2017, could be delayed and fail to make it back to the House of Commons in time to become law. The backbench peers intend to table a series of amendments to the European Union (Referendum) Bill, meaning it could run out of parliamentary time.

Tory James Wharton, the backbench MP who brought forward the legislation as a Private Member’s Bill, said there was a chance that he or other Conservative Euro-skeptics would try again next year if this happened.

It is customary in the House of Lords for Bills to be given a second reading and the legislation will now progress to committee stage, where it is highly likely a number of amendments will be tabled. If any amendments are made to the Bill which MPs want to reverse it is going to have to return to the Commons by February 28, the last sitting Friday when the legislation can be debated in the lower chamber.

Tory MP Philip Davies (Shipley) asked whether the Government would bring forward what is known as a carry-over motion, which would allow the Bill to make further progress in the next Parliament. But this only applies to Government legislation, meaning the Bill has to make it through parliament in this session.

There is one other option, that the Government can ask for further sitting Fridays beyond February 28. But the Liberal Democrats are not supporting the Bill.

Labor and Liberal Democrat peers were joined by the odd dissenting Tory voices who insisted the Bill needed further detailed work as they raised numerous concerns, including on the 2017 date for the vote, the wording of the question and the economic impact of the plans.

Former European Commissioner Lord Mandelson claimed Foreign Secretary William Hague and Prime Minister David Cameron had been “taken hostage by the militant tendency” within the Tories.

The Labor peer also told the Conservatives to stop grandstanding for the UK Independence Party (Ukip) vote by demanding a referendum, adding talk of leaving the EU only created uncertainty for investors and would threaten British jobs.

Lord Oakeshott insisted an in/out EU vote was the “coward’s way out” of political problems and an “abdication of responsibility”. The Lib Dem, who is an ally of Business Secretary of Vince Cable, pledged to introduce amendments.

Criticism from Tory peers included Lord Garel-Jones, who questioned the motives behind the plans, even suggesting it could be an attempt to win British National Party (BNP) voters. He insisted his party should not “pander to Ukip” but instead “confront them with a barrage of facts”, and said the European Union (Referendum) Bill was unnecessary.

But peers also heard arguments that their unelected status and the support from MPs and the public for a referendum did not give them the authority to kill the Bill, despite them possessing the power.

Lord Strathclyde broke his 12-month silence since stepping down as Tory leader of the Lords to warn it would be “comprehensively damaging” for the upper chamber’s reputation if rumors were true that some peers wanted to block the Bill by using delaying tactics.

He said nobody outside the Lords would understand why peers were “deliberately denying the people their say on this issue”.

Categories: Politics, International.

Top Comments

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  • Britworker

    What is the EU more afraid of, reform or losing the UK? I reckon the reforms will be forthcoming. However, I would vote to leave as I don't think Northern European countries are economically compatible with the Mediterranean ones.
    Has ta Mañana isn't my cup of tea thank you!

    Jan 13th, 2014 - 10:05 am 0
  • golfcronie

    I would suggest that the East Europeans economies are not economically compatible with the majority of EU economies. If you lived in Spain and wanted to seek work where would you go, the UK or for instance Romania, Bulgariaor Poland. The benefits system in the UK is by far more inviting.

    Jan 13th, 2014 - 10:52 am 0
  • aussie sunshine

    And where do the OAPs go when they retire??

    SPAIN!!!! WHERE ELSE WOULD THEY GO BUT SUNNY SPAIN. RICH IN CULTURE AND GREAT FOOD...I MILLION OR SO OAPS ARE RESIDING IN SPAIN....they are not silly.

    Jan 13th, 2014 - 12:53 pm 0
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