David Cameron to lead Conservative demands for in-out referendum on EU membership

Show of unity for poll by the end of 2017 will increase pressure on Labour to match the move

Conservative MPs led by David Cameron will close ranks today around plans for an in-out referendum on European Union membership.

They will bury their differences over Europe when they back a backbench MP’s Bill – supported by the Tory leadership – to hold a poll by the end of 2017.

Their show of unity will increase pressure on Labour to match the move. Tensions in opposition ranks were underlined when a shadow minister, Ian Austin, called for a referendum on membership – possibly as early as next year.

Ahead of today’s Commons debate, industry leaders warned that businesses would be stranded “on the margins of the world’s largest trading bloc” if Britain left the EU.

The Confederation of British Industry poured cold water on the idea promoted by growing numbers of Tory Right-wingers that the UK could quit the EU and then negotiate an arms-length trading relationship with the union.

It said British businesses would still have to abide by the EU’s rules at the same time as the country had lost its power to influence them.

The CBI also argued that departure could leave business facing a lengthy period of uncertainty and a potential delay of up to a decade to gain access to the single European market.

Tory chiefs believe today’s Commons debate has helped resolve Conservative differences on the divisive issue and puts Labour and the Liberal Democrats on the defensive.

Last night David Cameron hosted a hog roast for Conservative MPs who are under a three-line whip to attend today’s vote.

In a message to party activists, he said: “The Bill has my full support – and it has support from across the Parliamentary Party: Ministers and backbenchers; Conservatives of all views. We are united behind it and together we will vote for it.”

The Bill is being championed by James Wharton, the MP for Stockton South. It would force ministers to draw up detailed proposals by the end of 2016 for a referendum the following year. Failure to do so would leave them open to judicial review.

Mr Wharton admitted his measure could not bind the hands of the next parliament, which could pass a Bill to overturn his measure. But he argued: “It would be politically very difficult for the next parliament to say we are going to refuse the British people a say on this important issue.”

In its new report, the CBI focuses on the suggestion from supporters of Britain’s exit from the EU that the country could negotiate a relationship with the bloc similar to that adopted by Norway or Switzerland.

Drawing on contacts with major companies in the two countries, it said: “The CBI rejects the notion that these models would be better for the UK, arguing that British businesses don’t want to find themselves at the margins of the world’s largest trading bloc operating under market rules over which they have no influence.”

Norway is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement under which it operates within the EU economic area without being an EU member.

Opting for that “would not solve any of the challenges of the UK’s current relationship with the EU,” the CBI said. “It would mean that businesses would still have to follow EU rules, while at the same time it would remove the UK’s ability to protect our national interests by relinquishing our seat at the table in Brussels.”

Switzerland, by contrast, has negotiated 120 agreements with the EU giving it access to the single market, some of which took up to six years to clinch.

That would be unattractive for Britain, the CBI warned, as “it would potentially mean a long period of uncertainty during negotiations over market access, with no guarantee of the UK getting what it wants, before ultimately becoming a standards taker with limited influence”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need