A meaningless victory? EU referendum bill clears Commons

The bill would guarantee a referendum in the next parliament
The bill would guarantee a referendum in the next parliament. Photo: Thinkstock
Alex Stevenson By

The Conservative-backed EU referendum bill has completed its passage through the Commons, thwarting filibustering Labour backbenchers.

Tory business managers had cleared the schedule on Fridays this November in a bid to get James Wharton's bill through the Commons stages before Christmas.

Despite attempts by Labour MPs to delay the bill's progress a successful closure motion meant the bill was able to complete its passage through the Commons before time ran out this afternoon.

 


 

Eurosceptics were left exuberant. Few expected the bill to get this far but uncertainty within the shadow Cabinet reportedly prompted a decision to ignore it entirely, facilitating its progress.

It means the bill arrives in the Lords long before Christmas - giving peers opposed to the legislation an uncomfortably long time to block its future progress.

Most expect the upper House will effectively reject the bill because it is much easier to block private member's bills in the Lords than in the Commons.

If the bill does not pass the Lords before the current parliamentary session ends next spring Conservative backbenchers  will resort to their "backup" plan - an audacious attempt to use the Parliament Act to force the legislation through before the next general election.

The bill will become law provided a near-identical version is passed by the Commons in the 2014/15 session - and Lib Dem and Labour Europhiles do not unite to block the Parliament Act in the dying days of the parliament.

Without Lib Dem support the Conservatives would have to find another Tory backbencher willing to push the legislation through the Commons.

Such a stratagem would be unlikely to succeed - but might stand a chance if Labour repeated its current approach of refusing to whip its MPs against the bill.

Tory backbenchers believe this would set up a win-win situation, either forcing Ed Miliband to oppose the referendum - which Conservatives believe would be a vote-winner for David Cameron - or allow it to pass.

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