The latest attempt to enshrine in law an EU referendum has been defeated after Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs conspired against the European Union (Referendum) Bill.
The Bill was proposed by backbench MP Bob Neill and backed by David Cameron as part of his pledge to offer the British people a say – once he has tried to negotiate new terms in the European Council.
The BBC reported that Mr Neill said the Lib Dems had done “everything they could” to prevent a referendum and would be held to account by voters at the forthcoming general election.
“The Lib Dems have killed off our chances of putting into law, this side of an election, an in out EU referendum by 2017,” he said.
“They didn’t have the guts to vote against an EU referendum in the House of Commons. Instead they have used Westminster tricks to try to deny the British people a say on their membership of the EU.”
But senior Lib Dems said the Tories had effectively sacrificed the bill by attaching “ridiculous conditions”.
Lib Dem deputy leader Malcolm Bruce said: “The Liberal Democrats were never going to block their referendum bill. We were happy to allow them to try and get it passed in the House of Commons.
“But the truth is they have folded like a cheap deck chair and are trying to make us take the blame by adding ridiculous conditions they knew we would not and could not accept.”
The first time this subject was debated in the Houses of Parliament it was essentially killed off in the House of Lords.
This defeat at the hands of Lib Dems is not the first time that they have changed their mind over an important EU vote.
Before the 2005 General Election their campaign included a promise for a referendum on the European Constitution which was then turned into the Lisbon Treaty.
When the time came for a vote in the House of Commons, Lib Dem MPs shirked on their election promise and said instead they wanted an ‘In Out’ referendum which, at the time, was not even something UKIP thought likely. Their amendment was roundly defeated, as indeed many people believed the Lib Dems wanted.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg defended his decision to tell his MPs to abstain, and maintained that he instead wants a referendum on the “real” issue – Britain’s membership of the EU.
But then, when there was a chance to vote for a referendum on the UK’s EU membership in the House of Lords, they changed their mind again saying that they couldn’t support it and instead held a three line whip to abstain.
Speaking at the time, A Lib Dem spokesman said the party did not want to “give succour” to Eurosceptics by voting with the UK Independence Party.
He said the Lib Dems wanted a referendum on whether Britain should remain in Europe from a “pro-European stance”.
And ensuring they were entirely consistent in their inconsistencies, the Lib Dem leader in the House of Lords, Lord McNally said the next time there was a vote on a referendum they would not abstain: “A third position” as peers pointed out to them.
However by the time the vote did come round to the Lords back in January of this year, it was killed off when Labour and Lib Dem peers voted against allowing the Bill more time to be debated.
At the time, it was reported that the Prime Minister’s vow to get behind a new referendum bill was dismissed by Lib Dem sources as “a bit of bluster” that had not been discussed with them, words which may echo in the minds of many Eurosceptic Tories and the Prime Minister as they contemplate their now vulnerable position and the next move.
Whether it was discussed or not, the behaviour of the Liberal Democrats and Labour MPs and Lords show they have no appetite for the British people to have a free and fair referendum on the UK’s relationship and membership of the European Union.
But whether voters will remember that at the ballot box remains to be seen.