British EU referendum hopes raised

2013-05-16 13:00

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London - British eurosceptic lawmakers were given a boost on Thursday, when a Conservative parliamentarian said he would put forward legislation initiated by Prime Minister David Cameron on an EU membership referendum by 2017.

Conservative James Wharton, who won the ballot to put forth legislation as a private member's bill, confirmed he would introduce Cameron's bill. The prime minister hopes it will reassure voters who want an EU referendum of the Conservatives' commitment.

Private members' bills give individual parliamentarians the chance to put forward legislation not part of the government's own agenda.

Though Cameron had pledged in January to hold a referendum, he cannot include the bill as part of his government's programme because of opposition from his pro-Europe coalition partners the Liberal Democrats.

Cameron was dealt a blow by his own party on Wednesday, when around a third of Conservatives backed an amendment to his agenda criticising the lack of referendum legislation. Wharton was among those who voted for the rebel amendment.

The rebels brought the amendment despite Cameron's last-minute publishing of his draft bill, which guarantees a referendum on EU membership by 2017, implying that the parliamentarians did not trust the premier to hold it.

Not in control

Though Cameron insisted on Wednesday's vote was not a rebellion because he gave his party a free vote, the political manoeuvring has exposed simmering tensions in the Tories' ranks.

Many eurosceptic Conservatives blame Cameron for not winning an outright majority at the last election and dislike him pulling the party to the left on issues such as gay marriage.

The Labour opposition accused him of losing control of his agenda and his party.

"David Cameron's backbenchers have shown they simply won't give up until he gives in," said shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander.

According to a YouGov poll for the Sun tabloid, 43% of people believed Britain should leave the EU, while 37% said it should stay.

Read more on:    eu  |  david cameron

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