Conservative MP Bob Neill has pledged to reintroduce a bill to parliament that would guarantee the UK a referendum on EU membership in 2017. The bill was first put forward last year and unanimously passed by the House of Commons, but ran into trouble in the House of Lords where pro-EU peers effectively filibustered it.
Mr Neill made the pledge yesterday after he was ranked third in the “Private Members’ Bill Ballot”. This is an annual, random ballot of MPs which allows them to introduce their own bills to the House of Commons. The higher an MP is ranked, the more time they will have on their bill. Bob Neill is the highest-ranked Conservative this year.
The bill was first proposed last year by fellow Conservative James Wharton, who was drawn first in the 2013 ballot. It makes holding a referendum in 2017 a legal obligation, no matter which party wins next year’s General Election.
Although it is not official government policy, the bill has the backing of the Conservative Party leadership, which will put an EU referendum in the Tory manifesto for the next election. Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership if he wins the next election, and then hold a referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EU under the new terms or leave all together.
The Prime Minister has made it clear he supports the bill, and may use the Parliament Act to force it through parliament if the House of Lords blocks it again. This little-used Act allows the government to over-rule the Lords if it continuously rejects the same bill.
Kate Hoey, who is one of a handful of anti-EU Labour MPs, told the Daily Express: “I support Bob’s revival of the Bill. It is important to let the public know that many of us want a commitment in law to a referendum.”
The bill will likely be debated in the autumn.