David Cameron and William Hague will respond to intense pressure from mutinous Tory Eurosceptics today by unveiling an EU referendum Bill.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will back draft legislation which, if passed in the Commons, would formally confirm Mr Cameron’s pledge to hold an ‘in/out’ vote on Britain’s membership of the EU by 2017.The extraordinary move emerged as around 60 Tory rebels prepare to attack the Queen’s Speech for its lack of a referendum Bill in an amendment tomorrow that has turned into a public relations disaster for the Prime Minister.In the past few days, a string of senior colleagues, including two Cabinet ministers, have fanned the flames by suggesting they would want Britain to quit the EU if a referendum were held now.
However Mr Cameron was thrown a lifeline last night when President Barack Obama backed his plan to try to ‘fix what’s broken’ before holding a referendum.They also hope it will force Labour leader Ed Miliband either to back it or be seen to be denying the public a vote.Downing Street was delighted by President Obama’s support for Mr Cameron’s attempt to keep Britain in the EU by negotiating a better deal with Brussels.
At a joint press conference in the White House, Mr Obama said: ‘David’s basic point, that you probably want to see if you can fix what’s broken in a very important relationship before you break it off, makes some sense to me. I know that David’s been very active in seeking some reforms internal to the EU. Those are tough negotiations. You got a lot of countries involved. I recognise that.
‘But so long as we haven’t yet evaluated how successful those reforms will be, you know, I, at least, would be interested in seeing whether or not those are successful before rendering a final judgment.’His remarks represent a marked shift in the attitude of the Obama administration, which had previously warned the UK not to flirt with the idea of leaving the EU. However, he made it clear that, in US eyes, Britain’s place in the world would be diminished if it quit.
Mr Cameron, speaking hours after Education Secretary Michael Gove and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond revealed they would vote to leave the EU if a referendum were held now, insisted there was no point answering ‘hypothetical’ questions about a vote that will not be until 2017.He refused to say how he would vote if a referendum were held now and made clear his irritation with ministers who are fuelling the debate on Europe.
‘What matters now is making sure we do everything we can to reform the EU to make it more flexible, more open, more competitive, and improve Britain’s relations so that when we have that referendum before the end of 2017 we give the British people a real choice,’ he said.He hit back at Tory grandees, such as former Chancellors Lord Lawson and Lord Lamont and former leadership contender Michael Portillo, who warned last week that there was little chance of securing enough meaningful concessions from Brussels.
‘We should not give up before the negotiations have started. That is a pretty extraordinary way to go about things,’ Mr Cameron said.The Prime Minister insisted it would not be in Britain’s ‘national interest’ to hold a referendum now, as some Tories are demanding.An immediate poll would offer the public ‘a false choice between the status quo, which I don’t think is acceptable, and leaving’, he said.
‘I don’t think that is the choice the British public wants or the British public deserve. Everything I do in this area is guided by a very simple principle, which is, what is in the national interest of Britain.’Eurosceptic MP Andrew Rosindell insisted Mr Cameron would not be able to refashion Britain’s relationship with Brussels to a sufficient extent. He said: ‘I think David Cameron has huge abilities and he is bound to secure some concessions but will he secure the ending of political union for Britain? I don’t think so. I’m not convinced that’s possible.
‘I do believe David Cameron is sincere in wanting this referendum. I think that the people of this country must understand that the only hope of getting out of this mess of Europe is a Conservative government with a majority.’Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger said Britain should ‘come out’ of the EU, adding: ‘I’m sick to death with it. It’s bankrupt. It’s pushing us to do things we don’t want to do. It’s a dictatorship from Brussels.’
Sheila Gunn, press secretary to John Major when his premiership was dogged by Tory divisions over Europe, warned there were ‘some parallels’.‘Is now really the right time to make a fuss of it?’ she said. ‘You could… say now that the Conservative Party is handing the election to the Labour Party.’Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable said the Tories had ‘a bee in their bonnets and an obsession on Europe’ adding: ‘There’s no reason we should have a debate now, the focus should be on the economy.’ – DailyMail