UK Politics

Cameron says Tories will bring back failed EU bill

David Cameron Image copyright BBC News

David Cameron has pledged to get behind a fresh attempt to get an EU referendum bill into law after legislation was killed off by peers.

The House of Lords voted not to spend more time debating Tory MP James Wharton's private member's bill.

Its passage through Parliament had been delayed by Lib Dem and Labour blocking tactics.

The prime minister says he is committed to holding an in-out referendum in 2017 whether a bill is passed or not.

But he said he was prepared to use the Parliament Act - a little-used piece of legislation that asserts the primacy of the Commons - to force it on to the statute books.

Mr Cameron said the government would use every tactic possible to ensure the referendum and the next session of parliament would provide an opportunity for another private member's bill which he would support.

Labour's shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said it was "unprecedented for the prime minister to try and force through a major constitutional initiative via the device of a private member's bill".


The prime minister blamed Labour and the Liberal Democrats for the failure of the EU (Referendum) Bill.

"Today the Labour Party in the House of Lords voted to block our bill that would have ensured a referendum on Britain's EU membership by the end of 2017," Mr Cameron said.

"This is disappointing news for all of us, but we are not going to give up in our efforts to turn our referendum commitment into law. Far from it.

"After all, we succeeded in passing it through the House of Commons - a huge achievement.

"We are going to try to reintroduce the same bill in the next session of Parliament and, if necessary, rely on the provisions in the Parliament Act to stop Labour and Liberal Democrat peers killing the bill once again."

But he added: "The referendum I want to give the British people does not depend on a private member's bill in this session or the next session.

"It depends on me being prime minister after the next election - and if I am prime minister after the election there will be a referendum."

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.

Peers voted by 180 to 130 to end the debate of the EU (Referendum) Bill at committee stage in the Lords.

Mr Wharton's private member's bill was seen by Tory backbenchers as a way of strengthening the prime minister's commitment to an in-out vote.

'No alternative'

Speaking outside the chamber, Mr Wharton said: "Labour and the Lib Dems have conspired in the House of Lords to kill this important piece of legislation, doing the bidding of their political masters in the Commons.

"It's now clearer than it has ever been that it's only the Conservatives who will give people a choice on this important issue. I think many people will be disappointed by what has happened today."

Lib Dem sources accused the Tories of killing their own bill by failing to allow more time for debate, adding that Lib Dem peers were "more than happy to continue examining it and debating it next week".

Lib Dem peer Lord William Wallace of Saltaire said: "Those pushing for a referendum have no sense of the implication it would have on Britain. They offer no alternative to Britain remaining in the EU.

"Those who want to stay in the EU are hoping for a renegotiation of our membership.

"The coalition government has already legislated for a referendum if there is a transfer of powers from the UK to the EU."

Mr Alexander said the House of Lords debate had "once again raised serious questions about the prime minister's approach towards such a serious constitutional matter".

He added: "The truth is that this bill has always been more about Tory Party management than Britain's national interest."

More on this story