Coffee House

EU referendum plotting meeting: exclusive details

3 July 2013

As trailed on Coffee House yesterday, MPs in favour of an EU referendum met today to discuss how to advance James Wharton’s private member’s bill and how to pressure Labour and the Lib Dems to change their stance on the issue. I hear colleagues from all parties agreed with Wharton’s warning that amendments in the Commons could endanger the Bill, while the Stockton South MP also suggested that though trouble looms in the Lords, any attempts to wreck the legislation there could provide a nice opportunity for a debate about the legitimacy of the Upper Chamber turning down legislation sent up from the Commons.

As with gay marriage, dark mutterings about what could happen to this Bill once it reaches the Lords could prove unfounded. The Upper Chamber’s focus is more often on self-preservation, and to reject this Bill could be seen as doubly anti-democratic as not only would they be rejecting Commons legislation, but they would also be preventing the British people from being given a vote on an issue. The House of Lords can prove remarkably non-confrontational at times, no matter how many big beasts stalk its chamber.


This would of course have more strength if Labour or the Lib Dems decided to change their mind on the bill before MPs vote on it again in November, which is unlikely. But it would also offer the amusing spectacle of Tory MPs who vehemently opposed Lords reform last year sounding off about the antics of peers who want to scupper referendum legislation.

John Hemming, the only Lib Dem who publicly supports a referendum, also spoke, telling colleagues that he thought the bill itself was putting pressure on his party to re-think its current stance on whether to offer a vote on the EU, rather than any internal discussion the party might have been having anyway. So while the party publicly says it is only interested in jobs and growth rather than Tory stunts, privately there is greater concern among its MPs. And the line about this being a stunt will grow weaker the longer this goes on for, as the question of ‘well, what would your party do’ will become more and more difficult for the Lib Dems to answer, regardless of whether or not they back the private member’s bill.

But while Wharton is comfortable with his efforts to bring MPs from other parties on board, it looks as though very few eurosceptic Labour MPs are going to bother to turn up on Friday. As I blogged earlier this week, it would be helpful for Wharton to focus on attracting the support of more colleagues from other parties once Friday’s jamboree is over.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • Denis_Cooper

    “I hear colleagues from all parties agreed with Wharton’s warning that amendments in the Commons could endanger the Bill”

    If colleagues were serious about this then they would not be content to see the Commons pass such a seriously defective Bill.

  • Denis_Cooper

    I think you are seriously under-estimating the strength of pro-EU sentiment in the House of Lords. Those leading campaigns for a referendum on the Nice Treaty urged their supporters to lobby the peers about it, but nonetheless they easily passed the Bill to approve the treaty without a referendum; and then much the same thing happened over the Lisbon Treaty. It is folly to suppose that the unelected peers are, ever have been, or ever will be, stalwart defenders of democracy, and I fully expect that if Wharton’s Bill gets as far as the Lords then they will do their utmost to block it. Unlike MPs, europhile peers need have no fear of public opinion and never need to pretend that they are eurosceptics for electoral purposes; they no more want the British people to have any kind of referendum on the EU now than they ever did in the past, and so inevitably they would do their best to kill Wharton’s Bill and they would probably succeed in doing that.

    • Colonel Mustard

      According to the EU Constitution site the Nice Treaty was ‘passed’ in the Lords without a vote. Do you know the mechanics of that? I have not been able to find out anything about it.

  • allymax bruce

    Labour are not a political party, Labour are a Communist agenda.
    Everywhere, all around the world, the people of their own nations, are taking control back from illegitimate political party’s disguised as democratic party’s.
    Westminster Establishment should be aware of this.
    21st century politics, is not the same as it was 15 years ago; when scumbags like Bliar assumed dictatorial eminence.
    The revolution has begun; all around the world.

  • David B

    As we move closer to the Euro elections the issue will gain natural traction. At some point the issue will dominate the public mind, probably as the campaign gets into full swing in early 2014. At that point Labour and the Lib Dems will have to come of the fence or face dithering into oblivion

    • David Lindsay

      Oh, it’s far simpler than that. Labour should simply call for a straight In-Out referendum on the day of those elections. And probably will.

      • David B

        Miliband is a politician in the Brown mould. This will be like the election that never was.

        But look at it realistically. In order to get a referendum in May 2014 the act will need passed in September 2013. Tomorrow is the first reading of the bill, the second reading is November. Therefore if he going to propose it with any degree of meaning it must be done tomorrow with another resolution to give it government time so it is on the statute book in time for the electoral commission to prepare.

        Personally I think he will call for it in February when he knows there is no chance of it happening but he hopes it will play well with the public ie a political stunt!

  • MalcolmRedfellow

    Remember the old one about the guy who jumped out of the 40th floor, and declared (as he passed the 20th) that there was nothing amiss, all was hunky-dory so far?

    Now, as they say on all the better test-papers, compare and contrast:
    1. Alex Massie of this parish, 25 June, on “Tory Wreckers Will Shipwreck David Cameron on the Coast of Belgium”.
    2. (as above) “James Wharton’s [attempt] to pressure Labour and the Lib Dems to change their stance on the issue.”
    So, since the “Wreckers” are doing magnificently, swan-diving from the 40th floor, causing imminent grief only to their own lot, why should the other Parties rush to the rescue?
    Or, to change the metaphor, let’s not in this context remember Nick Ridley’s stunner that: “Although he is the pilot of the Bill, he has not got his bow doors open.”
    Nothing good, for Tories at any rate, can come of this self-indulgence.

    • Tim Reed

      …so it’s self-indulgent to cater to the wishes of the vast majority of the electorate, who wish to have a referendum on this issue?

      • David B

        Socialists just hate the thought of the public have a choice. They work on the basis the Party knows best and the public are to stupid or self obsessed to be trusted with the power to decide

      • MalcolmRedfellow

        … the vast majority of the electorate …

        You have no firm evidence for that statement. With one exception, every referendum produced lower turn-outs than General Elections. The numbers are something like::

        NI 1973, 58%;
        EU 1975, 64%;
        Scotland 1979, 64%;
        Wales 1979, 59%;
        Scotland 1997, 60%;
        Wales 1997, 50%;
        GLA 1998, 34%;
        Belfast Agreement 1998, 81%;
        North-East 2004, 47%;
        Wales 2011, 35%;
        AV 2011, 42%.

        That, remember, is total turn-out.

        Now find me any opinion poll that shows at least 23 million of the UK electorate (a bare half of the total, not your “vast majority”) are frothing for another go.

        You already have cross-party agreement that a major Treaty needs endorsement by referendum. That isn’t soon enough, and doesn’t fit the agenda of the eye-swivellers. So, this whole EU referendum thing comes down to:
        (1) an internal Tory kerfuffle, a placebo for the leadership putsch the right really want;
        (2) a polite way of being xenophobic, largely fuelled by scare stories about immigration;
        (3) a way to fill press columns and occupy otherwise-unemployed journos and talking heads, sadly not excluding the Spectator.

  • HookesLaw

    ‘the amusing spectacle of Tory MPs who vehemently opposed Lords reform last year sounding off about the antics of peers’— well I can only say it would serve them right.
    The Lords need reform and all their antics did was ruin the boundaries bill which was to their benefit. How thick is that?

Can't find your Web ID? Click here