UK Politics

MPs to vote on call for referendum on UK leaving the EU

EU and national flags at Strasbourg
Image caption The EU's and member state flags outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg

Backbench MPs have agreed to hold a debate and vote on calls for a referendum to be held on whether the UK stays in the European Union.

Members of the Backbench Business Committee agreed to hold the debate on October 27 on a motion calling for a referendum by May 2013.

Tory MP David Nuttall's motion says the public should have three options put to them in the nationwide vote - keeping the status quo, leaving the EU or reforming the terms of the UK's membership of the European Union.

The government would not be bound by the result of the vote but it could prove politically tricky for David Cameron.

He has refused calls for an in/out referendum but it has been a popular idea among Tory backbenchers.

'Public demand'

The motion proposed says: "This House calls upon the Government to introduce a bill in the next session of Parliament to provide for the holding of a national referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union, leave the European Union, or renegotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and cooperation."

Mr Nuttall said the debate was overdue as there was "enormous public demand" for people to have their say on the issue of Europe.

"I believe that a referendum along these lines would allow the public to make clear their views about our current membership of the European Union," he said.

"It is 36 years since we last held a referendum and our relationship with what was then known as the Common Market and the European Union has changed out of all recognition."

No 10 have indicated that all Conservative MPs will be expected to support the government in rejecting the referendum option - the coalition agreement commits the UK to being a "positive participant in the European Union" .

The prime minister's spokesman said: "I imagine we will establish the whipping arrangements nearer the time but we have a very clear policy on that and that is set out in the coalition agreement.

"We would expect MPs and ministers to follow the government's policy."

But Eurosceptic Conservative MP Bill Cash said it should be for Parliament to decide on the issue and the "national interest" should override the coalition agreement.

BBC Parliamentary correspondent Mark D'Arcy said about 50 Conservative MPs could support the referendum call, which would mean Labour's approach to it "could turn out to be less academic than the normal Opposition line".

Labour says a referendum would be a "distraction" for the UK at a time when British business needs all the inward investment and export opportunities that they can get.

A spokesman said: "Britain should be focused on creating the jobs and growth we desperately need, not cutting ourselves off from major export markets that British jobs depend on."

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said the debate was "a good start... but with all party leaders demanding that their MPs reject the motion I hold out little hope of a yes vote".

"The real debate is going on out there in the country, in people's homes, businesses and pubs. We know from many polls that a vast majority of people want this referendum, we learn next week how many of the MPs have the courage to support their constituents."

A petition signed by more than 100,000 people, including Conservative and Labour MPs, calling for a referendum was handed into Downing Street last month.

More on this story