Philip Hammond: Britain's EU referendum pledge is 'lighting a fire' under Brussels

Eurosceptic remarks come as Bill enshrining poll in law cleared first parliamentary hurdle

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The Conservatives’ pledge to hold a referendum on membership of the European Union are “lighting a fire” under Brussels, says the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

His fiercely Eurosceptic remarks came as a Bill enshrining the referendum in law cleared its first parliamentary hurdle.

Although it was passed by 283 to 0 votes after Labour and Liberal Democrats abstained, it looks likely to be blocked in the Lords. An identical Bill has already been stymied by peers.

If he wins next year’s general election, David Cameron has promised to hold the referendum by 2017 following an attempt to wrest powers from the EU to Britain.

Mr Hammond said: “The fact of the referendum, the fact of this Bill, will drive the timetable of that [renegotiation] agenda in Europe.

“We are lighting a fire under the European Union by this piece of legislation. We are setting off a process that politicians and governments do not have the power to stop and that will give us a very powerful weapon in our armoury.”

In his first speech since being re-elected as a Ukip MP, Douglas Carswell said the case for a referendum was overwhelming. He added: “I can say Ukip MPs can always be counted on to support an EU referendum.”

But he accused Mr Cameron of not being serious about achieving a new deal for Britain. Mr Carswell claimed: “It’s all about not changing.”

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