Cameron rushes out EU referendum plans

DAVID Cameron will today unveil a draft law that will commit the country to holding an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU before the end of 2017.

The surprise move is an attempt to stop the government being overwhelmed by a growing rebellion over Europe on the Conservative backbenches. But rival parties last night said it showed the Prime Minister had lost control of his own party.

Cameron has previously promised to hold a referendum if the Conservatives win a majority at the 2015 general election but until now has refused to guarantee this in law.

However, the bill will struggle to make it onto the statute books without the support of the Liberal Democrats or Labour. Nick Clegg is expected to deny the debating time required for it to become law.

In an unusual step the legislation has been drawn up by Conservative officials rather than civil servants, and will be introduced by a backbench MP as a private members’ bill. This allows the draft law to be put before the House of Commons without requiring support from the Lib Dems.

The Conservative leadership had hoped that draft legislation would be enough to stop Conservative MPs pushing ahead with tomorrow’s vote on amending the Queen’s Speech to note regret at the absence of a referendum bill.

But last night John Baron MP, who tabled the amendment and claims the support of up to 100 of his colleagues, told the BBC that the Prime Minister’s plan is “not good enough”.

The destabilising effect of Europe on Cameron’s party has been exacerbated by the continued rise of Nigel Farage’s Ukip, which took 18 per cent of national support in a Guardian/ICM poll released last night.

This means Ukip – which made substantial gains in this month’s local elections – is far more popular than the Lib Dem party, which sunk to 11 per cent support.

Labour were in the lead on 34 per cent, while the Conservatives registered 28 per cent, as all parties lost potential voters to Farage’s maverick Eurosceptics.

Details of the hastily-produced referendum plan were released as Cameron met US President Barack Obama in Washington DC to discuss a range of issues including the conflict in Syria and a potential US-EU trade agreement.

At a joint press conference Obama appeared to support the Prime Minister’s plan to renegotiate looser ties with the EU rather than quit altogether.

“You probably want to see if you can fix what’s broken in a very important relationship before you break it off. Seems to make sense to me,” he told reporters.