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Friday, October 17, 2014

The EU Referendum Bill passes another hurdle - but time is running out

EU Referendum Bill rises again
The Conservative party's attempt to force an EU Referendum in 2017 onto the statute book is back in the guise of Bob Neill's Private Member's Bill (remember James Wharton's bill was killed of by the Lords back in January). Once again, the bill has passed at second reading stage in the House of Commons (283 MPs voted in favour and none were brave enough to vote against).

So what are its prospects for success this time around?

The Bill will now go to Committee stage where the best strategy for those who wish to scupper it (without been seen to be overtly doing so) will be to amend the bill in order to prevent it from being 'parliament acted' - something which will happen automatically if the Bill is rejected outright or is still stuck in the Lords by the time parliament is dissolved for the general election. Since the unsuccessful Bill has to be exactly the same on both occasions, if Labour and Lib Dem MPs manage to - for example - extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds as happened in the Scottish referendum, the Parliament Act could not be used. The exact make-up of the committee (will any pro-referendum Labour MPs be included?) could prove crucial.

Another problem is that unlike James Wharton - who topped the Private Members' Bill ballot last time around - Bob Neill only came third, so his Bill is behind the two other PMBs in the parliamentary pecking order. Both are relatively contentious themselves - one seeks to fundamentally reform the so-called 'bedroom tax' and the other aims to enshrine the government's to spend 0.7% of GDP in foreign aid - so the more time they spend in Committee stage, the longer it will take for Neill's Bill to progress to that stage.

If however it does navigate its way through the Commons unamended, then it will be for the next UK Government to either hold the referendum as instructed, ignore the law or seek to reverse the legislation. Either way, it will have served its primary purpose - convincing a sceptical electorate that the Conservatives are serious about a referendum.

4 comments:

Average Englishman said...

Indeed; the sole purpose of the bill is to convince the electorate that the Conservatives are serious about a referendum.

However, if the Conservatives do manage to win an election outright next year it will be interesting to see how Dave and his team wriggle like mad to avoid actually seeing through with their commitment, as try to wriggle out of it they will. If there is another 'hung' parliament and God forbid, the Liberals hold sway again then Dave can just say "Clggy won't let me!", which would be very handy but otherwise, he'll have to be more creative.

Denis Cooper said...

Yes, the Wharton/Neill European Union (Kicking Referendum into Long Grass) Bill passed its Second Reading by 283 votes to zero, showing a significant weakening of Tory support from the last time it had a Commons Second Reading when it passed by 304 votes to zero.

Division No 45 on July 5th 2013, here:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm130705/debtext/130705-0003.htm

Apparently it's all about "trust": if Cameron just put a pledge into the Tory manifesto saying that he would hold an EU referendum in 2017 then nobody would trust him on that, quite rightly; but if this Bill passes and the pledge becomes enshrined in a law then we're supposed to trust that as Prime Minister after the 2015 election he would do as that law says and not look for an excuse for interfering with it, which of course Cameron could do just as easily as Miliband could if he won the election.

Anonymous said...

There is a popular fallacy, which you have repeated, that this enshrines a referendum in law. It doesn't.
It is Parliamentary Convention that no Parliament can bind a future parliament to act in a certain way, because it is the new parliament, which has the mandate.
This Bill not only seeks to rig the franchise by allowing Commonwealth citizens to vote, but not EU citizens, but is not worth a row of beans at the end of the parliament. Its sole purpose is to shore up the Tory vote.

Rollo said...

We have all heard Barroso telling Cameron off, and letting him know that there is no way to limit free movement of people in the EU. Cameron's case, that he will get changes and that will be all right, then, seem very weak. Vote Con, get a few cosmetic changes, and plunge deeper into the EU superstate.
The only way out is out.