Tory call on Labour MPs to back referendum bill

The Tory party chairman has called on Labour MPs to break their leader's resistance to an EU referendum and support the party's draft amendment when it hits the Commons.

Grant Shapps reached out to the Labour benches ahead of a debate which will see Tories whipped into backing a 2017 vote on British membership of the EU.

"David Cameron wants the British people to decide our European future with an in-out referendum and we want to turn this commitment into law," he said.

"Ed Miliband is making clear he'll never give the public a say because he doesn't trust the British people.

"But we know there are Labour MPs who want that referendum and we want them to back our bill."

The move comes as eurosceptic Conservative Tory MP James Wharton agreed to bring forward David Cameron's draft bill on an EU referendum, in a development which will prompt a deep sigh of relief in Downing Street.

The 29-year-old is one of the youngest MPs in the Commons. He voted for the eurosceptic amendment in last night's Queen's Speech division, but he has also previously said he is wary of the party becoming overly-obsessed with Europe.

Wharton confirmed he would take the bill forward after he happened to come top of a randomly selected ballot on private members' bills held in parliament this morning.

"I will bring forward a bill to give people a say on our EU membership," he announced shortly afterwards.

Wharton confirmed he had been in discussion with Tory whips but insisted he had wanted to introduce the referendum bill before talking to them.

"I think the reality is we need to be seen talking about things that matter to people – cost of living, immigration, jobs, the economy, things we need to get right to improve people's lives " he told the BBC News Channel.

"This is the best possible way of getting towards that position. Because once we've had this debate and once parliament has had its say… we can really focus on the things we should be looking at."

Downing Street confirmed there would be a three line whip on Tory MPs for the vote.

The ballot result was the best chance for David Cameron to move the story on following last night's eurosceptic amendment vote, in which 116 Conservative MPs regretted the lack of such a bill in the Queen's Speech.

This morning all eyes were on committee room ten in the Palace of Westminster, where the order of precedence for private members' bills in the 2013/4 session was chosen at random.

The result was: 7) Andrew Gwynne MP, 6) Sir Alan Meale, 5) Dan Byles MP, 4) Sheryll Murray MP, 3) Jonathan Lord, 2) Paul Blomfield MP and 1) James Wharton.

Wharton has had a surprisingly colourful early political career involving giant penis statutes, a boules pitch and several trips to Sri Lanka.

James Wharton













Any MP is permitted to enter the ballot for private member's bills, which are heard on Friday sittings of the House when most backbenchers have already retreated to their constituencies.

The first seven MPs stand a reasonable chance of at least having their case heard because they are guaranteed substantial debate on Fridays.

But it is very hard to get a private member's bill on the statute book, as it requires a quorum of at least 100 MPs present in the chamber and faces the risk of being 'talked out' in filibuster style by any opponents.

John Baron, the eurosceptic behind yesterday's troublesome amendment, dismissed the private member's bill alternative as a result.

"If the amendment had been passed, the prime minister would have had the mandate to go to the Liberals to get government legislation introduced," he said.

"This is the best way of passing a bill because it would require a majority to defeat it. By contrast, other means of introducing legislation can get blocked by a determined minority."

The last time government MPs voted against their Queen's Speech in numbers was 2004, but only three Labour left-wingers did so then, according to expert Philip Cowley of the University of Nottingham. The last substantial rebellion was in 1946.