Tories at war over EU vote

DAVID Cameron was yesterday forced to insist that he is in control of his party as the Conservative leadership unveiled a draft EU referendum in an attempt to placate rebellious backbenchers.

The legislation, if passed, would ensure the nation is allowed to vote on the question “Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?” by the end of 2017.

In a highly unusual move, the legislation was drawn up internally by the Tories rather than civil servants because it is opposed by the Lib Dems.

The draft is designed to convince Tory MPs that Cameron is serious about holding to a vote on the issue in the face of a mounting rebellion.

While some leading Eurosceptics, such as Douglas Carswell, said they would now back the proposed private member’s bill, others said it still did not go far enough.

Leading rebel John Baron said he would not back down on his plan to hold a vote later today on an amendment to the Queen’s Speech expressing regret at the absence of a government-backed referendum plan.

Last night the Prime Minister, who is currently on a visit to the US, told the BBC he was “profoundly relaxed” about how Conservative MPs vote in today’s amendment debate.

Either way the Tory-drafted bill is unlikely to become law since the Lib Dems have said they will not allow it to receive sufficient debating time in the House of Commons chamber.

WHY HAS CAMERON ACTED NOW?

■ In January, Cameron promised to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU if the Conservatives win a majority in 2015.

■ This pledge did not do enough to placate angry backbenchers, who are also feeling the heat at constituency level from the growing popularity of Ukip.

■ Last Thursday two backbench Tory Eurosceptics, John Baron and Peter Bone, tabled a loosely-worded amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling for an EU referendum law immediately.

■ Faced with a rebellion of up to 100 Tory MPs, yesterday evening Tory staff hurriedly briefed details of an EU bill to the press. Aides said it was first considered in January.

■ As the next general election approaches Cameron is keen to focus his government’s efforts on domestic cost of living issues rather than the EU.