EU referendum bill: MPs back in/out poll by 304-0

Tory benches packed after party imposed a three-line whip to support measure

Political Editor

A referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union came a step closer when MPs overwhelmingly backed a public vote in 2017.

Conservative MPs put aside their differences over whether the UK should leave the EU by uniting in support of a backbench Bill to enshrine in law David Cameron’s promise of an in/out referendum.  It was given a second reading by 304 votes to nil.  Most Labour and  Liberal Democrat MPs abstained after their party leaders dismissed it as a stunt, but six Labour Eurosceptics  rebelled by voting in favour.

The Private Member’s Bill is unlikely to become law due to lack of parliamentary time. But the huge majority will keep up the pressure for a referendum – and for Labour to do U-turn by coming out  in favour of one so that it is not isolated at the 2015 election.

Mr Cameron, who joined the packed Tory benches for the debate,  said the Commons decision had brought “us one step closer to giving the British people a say on Europe.”

The EU (Referendum)Bill  was introduced by James Wharton, the youngest Tory MP at 29, who said generations of people had been denied a say on Europe since the country decided to stay in at the 1975 referendum.  “ I am not here today to put an argument about whether we should be in or out…but  that we should let the British people have a say,” he said.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, told the Commons  it was "the right Bill, at the right time".

He said:  "The efforts of those who want to build   European integration without bringing the people with them have been utterly self-defeating.”

Challenged by Labour MPs, Mr Hague said he would vote in a referendum “to stay in a successfully reformed EU”, as would Mr Cameron.  Many Tory MPs have already signalled they would vote to pull out.

For Labour, Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "We do not believe that an in/out referendum in 2017, as anticipated by this Bill, is in the national interest.” He said Mr Cameron’s referendum pledge had been “driven by weakness not by strength. This is about external electoral threats [from Ukip] and internal leadership threats. This is not about trusting the people, it is about these people [Tory MPs] not trusting the Prime Minister.”

However, Mr Alexander refused to rule out a change of heart on a referendum by Labour before the 2015 election and there are growing signs it will support one.

Although most Labour and Lib Dem MPs stayed away,  several Labour Eurosceptics delighted the Tories by speaking in support of a referendum. Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. He told MPs: “I believe this should be done sooner rather than later. I believe that we should do it now if we can. If not now, then certainly at the time of the next general election.”

The six Labour MPs who  voted for the Bill were: Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Hall Green), Kate Hoey (Vauxhall), Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North), Dennis Skinner (Bolsover), Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) and Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston).

Simon Hughes, the Lib Dems’ deputy leader, said his constituents’  priorities were “jobs, growth and investment”, which would be put at risk by the uncertainty over EU membership caused by a 2017 referendum.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders