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Tories in revolt over EU referendum

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Tories in revolt over EU referendum

Post  Panda on Sun 12 May - 7:39

Tories in revolt over EU referendum

David Cameron has risked a Cabinet revolt over a European referendum.


By Patrick Hennessy, and Robert

9:00PM BST 11 May 2013


Downing Street said it would tell ministers to abstain this week from a key
vote that effectively calls for Mr Cameron’s pledge to have an in/out referendum
on Europe in 2017 to be put into law.

Eurosceptic MPs are planning a vote that will “express regret” that the
Queen’s Speech did not contain a “paving Bill” for a referendum — an absence
that has prompted fury among Tory backbenchers.

Downing Street said that ministers would be expected to abstain from the vote
— creating the almost unprecedented situation where members of the Government
would not vote in support of the Queen’s Speech.

The plan creates a loyalty test for every Cabinet minister and more junior
members of the Government.

If any of the approximately 100 ministers and parliamentary private
secretaries (PPEs) were to vote for the motion, it would be a huge embarrassment
to Mr Cameron.

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One minister told The Sunday Telegraph: “I’m afraid abstaining does show the
weakness of the Prime Minister. He can’t force ministers to vote against this
amendment because some of us would walk out.”

Mr Cameron announced in January that a Conservative government would hold an
in/out referendum if it won the 2015 election. Backbenchers have since ramped up
the pressure for a “paving Bill” despite the Prime Minister saying that he
cannot bring forward legislation for a referendum because it is not supported by
the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Forsyth, one of the party’s most respected figures on the Right, who was
a close confidant of Baroness Thatcher, becomes the latest Tory grandee, after
Lord Lawson and Michael Portillo, to intervene in the debate.

He writes in The Sunday Telegraph demanding legislation in this Parliament
for a referendum. He says claims that Britain would lose jobs and investment by
quitting the EU are “scare stories” and suggests Mr Cameron is intellectually
incoherent for on the one hand agreeing to a 2014 Scottish referendum, and on
the other not legislating for a EU-plebiscite.

“The Prime Minister is being held hostage by Nick Clegg and the Liberals who
are afraid to allow the British people a vote,” he writes. “[He] should put his
country before the Coalition and introduce a Bill now to give the British people
their say.”

The vote this week — which has still to be sanctioned by John Bercow, the
Speaker — promises to be a dramatic parliamentary moment.

It is one of the biggest tests yet for the Prime Minister. Last week, as the
motion was proposed, Downing Street suggested that ministers could be allowed to
support the amendment. However, yesterday No 10 came up with its new plan: to
allow Tory backbenchers a free vote, while making it clear that all ministers
and PPSs would be expected to abstain.

Within hours, the plan was dubbed bizarre and “bonkers” by Conservative MPs.
There were signs it could fall apart before being put into play.

Ministers had still not been officially told about the No10 decision last

A source close to a Conservative Cabinet minister sarcastically wished No10
“good luck” with the plan, and added: “Downing Street is gambling that every
single Cabinet minister will abstain.

“But if a single one decides to vote in favour then a few could easily do so
— and where does that leave us?”

Another senior Tory told The Sunday Telegraph that the promise of an in/out
referendum in 2017 was a “credibility” issue for Mr Cameron and the mass
abstention plan simply showed “equivocation”, which could make matters worse for
the Government.

One PPS said: “I can understand why this is being done, but it makes us look

A Conservative backbencher said: “This is more than bizarre. It sounds
absolutely bonkers.”

And in a sign of the pressure on the party, there were reports last night
that Downing Street was trying to persuade Tory MPs to withdraw their amendment.

Rebel Tory backbenchers led by John Baron and Peter Bone announced that they
would table their amendment to the Queen’s Speech last week in response to the
dramatic rise in support for Ukip in the local elections earlier this month.
Their intervention came after a statement from Lord Lawson, who has been backed
by Lord Lamont, the former chancellor.

The amendment — that “this House respectfully regrets that an EU Referendum
Bill was not included in the Gracious Speech” — reflects the views of scores of
Tory backbenchers, and many ministers, who want legislation “locking in” Mr
Cameron’s promise of an “in/out” referendum in 2017 on Britain’s EU membership.

In an article for this newspaper today, Mr Baron argues that the Prime
Minister’s promise is “not yet believable”. He warns: “British voters are deeply
sceptical of politicians making promises on Europe — too many have been broken
in the past.”

If Mr Bercow chooses the rebel Tory amendment for a vote, as he is expected
to do, and the No 10 plan holds, it could produce chaotic and unprecedented
scenes in the Commons next week.

Liberal Democrat ministers would vote against it because they do not want a
referendum on the EU.

The vast majority of Labour MPs are also expected to oppose it. Meanwhile,
scores of Tory ministers and PPSs would abstain — effectively failing to support
their own Queen’s Speech which sets out the Government’s legislative plans for
the next 12 months — including key measures on immigration, social care and

Before news emerged of the mass abstention plan, Tory MPs speculated that as
many as half a dozen Cabinet ministers — including Iain Duncan Smith, Owen
Paterson, Chris Grayling, Theresa May, Michael Gove and Philip Hammond — could
support the rebel amendment.

Stuart Andrew, PPS to Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, said he
would “probably abstain” — before hearing of the mass abstention plan. Mr Andrew
previously voted against the Government over Europe 18 months ago.

A No 10 source said the plan was one of “the realities of coalition
government” and added: “We are very relaxed about this. If we whipped our MPs
into voting against the John Baron amendment we would be whipping them to vote
against something we actually believe in — how bizarre would that be?”

However, even success in securing complete abstention by the “payroll vote”
will not end the turmoil in Tory ranks.

Mr Baron uses his article today to vow not to let the matter drop. He adds:
“There should be no doubt that in the coming weeks, colleagues and I will seek
every possible means to bring legislation to Parliament — through Private
Members’ Bills, Presentation Bills and other avenues.”

Bill Cash, a leading Eurosceptic MP, said: “It is vital this amendment is
allowed to go through.

“David Cameron would be cheered to the rafters not just in the Conservative
Party but by millions of people around the country if he held an EU referendum
before 2015. I am certain that if he did so it would deliver victory at the next
general election.”

There were also signs that the Lib Dems are not entirely united on Europe.

In an interview with this newspaper, Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Business
Secretary, takes a different line from his leader, Nick Clegg, over the dangers
of a possible EU exit.

Last week Mr Clegg warned that this would put up to three million jobs at
risk, but Mr Cable says such judgments are “too extreme”.

Mr Cable also comes close to agreeing with Lord Lawson, the former Tory
chancellor, that Britain’s trade might be able to thrive years after leaving the
EU — after an initial “hit”. However, he warns that leaving would create “big
uncertainty” for businesses.

The Labour front bench has so far remained united and yesterday Ed Miliband,
the party leader, said it was “wrong” for Mr Cameron to have committed to a
referendum up to four years in the future.

However, some backbenchers have expressed concern that Labour is failing to
get a grip on an increasingly Eurosceptic public mood.

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