Monday, January 10, 2011

Cameron faces backbench rebellion over EU vote

David Cameron faces a serious rebellion from his backbenchers tonight when a bill on the referendum lock goes before the Commons.

MPs will debate amendments to the bill, with veteran eurosceptic Bill Cash putting forward a series of radical changes.

Tory backbencher Douglas Carswell branded the bill, which would ensure a referendum in the case of a "significant" EU treaty, "smoke and mirrors".

"This bogus EU bill is no substitute for the referendum we were promised. Nothing in this bill will cause the permanent British representatives in Brussels, who really decide Europe policy, to change course," he wrote on his blog.

Mr Cameron originally promised the referendum lock in opposition, when it became clear that his promise of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty would not be possible.

But Tory backbenchers have been dismayed by the moderate tone adopted towards the EU from the prime minister and his foreign secretary, William Hague, since they arrived in office.

Combined with the unconcealed pro-European credentials of the Conservatives' Lib Dem coalition partners, many eurosceptic backbenchers are intensely uncomfortable with the way Britain's relationship with the EU is being managed.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Hague insisted the bill would protect Britain from any further expansion of EU jurisdiction.

"The truth is that only in a few minor areas does it give the ministers of the day any discretion at all about the calling of a referendum - and then only if they can persuade parliament and the courts that they are right," he wrote.

"When it becomes an act this will be the strongest defence of national democracy put in place anywhere in Europe. It is a massive advance for national democracy."

But Labour is unimpressed by the law, especially the judicial review aspect, which they say hands power to judges which should be in the hands of elected representatives.

"Even the foreign secretary must know this bill is a dogs dinner," said shadow foreign secretary Yvette Cooper.

"This bill is about failed Tory party management not the issues that matter for Britain in Europe. Instead of concentrating on things like growth, exports or cross border crime, William Hague is wasting time trying and failing to keep his eurosceptics happy.

"Even worse, the bill is so badly drafted and contradictory that it could lead to a lawyers paradise where important decisions happen in court rather than parliament."

MPs will debate the bill this afternoon.


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