Labour filibustering of EU membership referendum bill gets under way

Labour MPs suggested no fewer than 11 amendments to the line in James Wharton’s private member's bill pertaining to the date that a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union must be held.

In the original proposals, the bill reads: “The referendum must be held before 31 December 2017”.

Labour MP for Wolverhampton North East Emma Reynolds suggested that this sentence be removed entirely, while Ilford South MP Mike Gapes and Cheltenham MP suggested it be “on a date to be determined”.

Gapes, Lewisham West MP Jim Dowd and Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, then proposed a further nine amendments. Here were their suggestions.

The referendum must be held:

  • On a date to be determined by a Royal Commission on the future of the United Kingdom in Europe.
  • On 22 May 2014.
  • On 6 May 2015.
  • Before 31 December 2014.
  • Before 31 December 2015.
  • Before 31 December 2016.
  • Before 1 July 2017.
  • Before 31 December 2018.
  • Before 31 December 2019.
  • On the date of the General Election in May 2020.

In a blog on Conservative Home, Wharton said he was saddened by the attempts of Labour MPs and Liberal Democrat MP Martin Horwood “to delay progress as much as they could”.

The committee met at 2pm and spent somewhere in the region of four and a half hours discussing when it should meet again. My original suggestion that we should meet on Tuesdays from 2pm and Wednesdays all day was, ultimately, accepted. Things then turned from bad to worse as Labour and the Lib Dem member proceeded to talk at length but yet make little progress. In a Bill Committee it is very difficult to prevent filibustering and we saw some impressive examples of it deployed as the evening wore on….

In the end, a deal was struck. We were able to address the first two groups of amendments, being the substantive part of the changes tabled so far. We finished not long before 1am, a welcome surprise for MPs who had been prepared for an all night effort and had already rearranged diaries for the next day. Over 20 amendments were discussed at length and voted down.