EU referendum bill gets Commons approval

James Wharton: "We are a significant step closer to letting people deicide - to let Britain decide - on our future in the European Union"

A bill calling for a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU in 2017 has been approved by the House of Commons.

The legislation passed its final stage in the Commons on Friday despite efforts by Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs to delay its passage.

The bill will now move to the House of Lords for scrutiny early next year.

The Tory MP behind the bill, James Wharton, said it was a "significant" milestone in the campaign to let the British public have their say.

The private member's bill has been strongly supported by David Cameron, who says the UK needs to negotiate a better deal within the EU and get public backing for any new arrangements.

But both his deputy Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband have warned of the uncertainty and damage to business they say would be caused by holding a referendum.

'Drawn out'

Although the bill's progress in the Commons had been "drawn out", Mr Wharton said it had got over "every hurdle" and had made progress that "many commentators said would not happen".

He said: "This is significant and I think it could be argued to be an historic thing.

Start Quote

I hope the House of Lords will do justice to it and amend it significantly”

End Quote Mike Gapes Labour MP

"The House of Commons has voted overwhelmingly to pass at every stage legislation for a referendum. That has not been done since the last referendum in 1975."

Opposition MPs hoped the legislation would eventually run out of parliamentary time, speaking at length to try and frustrate its progress, but Tory MPs have accused them of deliberately filibustering.

Mike Gapes, a Labour MP who spoke for 38 minutes at one stage on Friday, said the bill was a "pig in a poke" as it was predicated on a pledge to renegotiate the UK's membership, which may never happen.

"This bill is a disgrace. It should not be supported. I hope the House of Lords will do justice to it and amend it significantly," he said.

'Buck-passing'

Debate on the bill in the Lords, where the government does not have a natural majority and has suffered frequent defeats in votes on other legislation, will start early next year.

Mr Wharton acknowledged that the bill would have a tougher time making its way through the upper house but warned peers hoping to block it that they should think twice about what they were doing.

He said: "For an unelected house to deny the British people a say on a bill which has been passed by the elected House of Commons, I think, would put them in a very difficult position."

The UK Independence Party said the referendum pledge could be "revoked" by a future government and the vote should be held before the next election.

Paul Nuttall, its deputy leader, said: "Let's not kid ourselves. The people of Britain are wise to this nonsense by now and will view today's vote as the cowardly political buck-passing that it amounts to."

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