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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The price of rebellion

The Tory rebellion over Europe took yet another unusual twist today with the Prime Minister effectively embracing it by announcing his intention to introduce a draft Bill to guarantee that an in/out referendum on Europe will be held by 2017.

According to the Independent the draft Bill, which is to be unveiled by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, will be seen as a way to strengthen Mr Cameron’s promise of a referendum if his party wins the 2015 general election. They continue:

It is unlikely to be introduced as a government measure because the Liberal Democrats oppose the idea. But it could make progress through Parliament as a backbench Bill. A Conservative source said on Monday night: “We will examine all the options to bring this Bill before Parliament, including a Private Member’s Bill, in keeping with what the Prime Minister has said.”

More than 70 Tory MPs have taken the unusual step of signing an amendment to last week’s Queen’s Speech regretting the absence of an EU referendum Bill. Ministers have been told they can abstain in a vote on it due tomorrow, but backbenchers and ministerial aides will be allowed to support the amendment.

If the Bill starts its passage through Parliament, Mr Cameron hopes it will “shine a spotlight” on his referendum pledge and counter the recent surge by the UK Independence Party. He also hopes the Bill will put the Liberal Democrats and Labour on the spot by forcing them to decide quickly whether they support or oppose giving the public a say on Britain’s position in Europe.

That is all very well, but is this really a good use of Parliamentary time? After all isn't there a constitutional convention that says that a Parliament cannot bind its successors? If that is the case then the draft bill becomes no more than symbolic, a sure sign that party politics and internal dissent have finally trumped the national interest.
If the Tories decide they will support a private member's bill without Coalition approval, surely the Lib Dems can 'suggest' to a Labour/ LD backbencher that they do the same on a mansion tax? The difference being that the parliamentary numbers would stack up to introduce the mansion tax against Tory opposition, but not for the EU Referendum.

It would be entirely consistent with the position the Tory leadership are approaching.
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