LABOUR MPs have been told to stay away from parliament next month when the Commons votes on a draft law that would enshrine a commitment to hold an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
Labour’s decision not to whip the vote makes it very likely that the legislation, due to be introduced by James Wharton MP as a private member’s bill on 5 July, will receive a second reading.
Tory sources accused Ed Miliband of doing everything possible to avoid the sight of the Labour leadership arguing against a referendum in the Commons.
“We want to allow the British people to decide our European future with an in-out referendum and we want to turn this commitment into law,” said Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps.
“Ed Miliband has made clear yet again that he is too weak to give his MPs, let alone the public, a say.”
But Labour claimed the draft bill, which has David Cameron’s support and would require a referendum to be held by 2017, is little more than a “Tory gimmick” and a “political stunt”. They insist committing to a vote at this stage would create uncertainty for the UK economy.
Lib Dem opposition to the referendum plan means it has not been introduced as a government bill and will struggle to make it onto the statute books in the face of opposition from the House of Lords.
A spokesman for Labour for a Referendum, a newly-formed lobby group designed to build support for an EU vote within the party, insisted they were happy that Labour MPs who back the plans will be free to vote with their conscience.
“Since the Labour Party is not whipping for abstention we hope that all Labour MPs who support a referendum will vote for one on 5 July,” they explained.