This week a group of mainly Conservative MPs tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech. The amendment states, in Queen’s speech style language,
“This House respectfully regrets that an EU referendum Bill is not included in the Gracious speech”.
Some of you would want a full bloodied motion, but I can assure you this did the job in Parliament. Everyone deciding how to vote on this amendment knows what it means on the main point. If you vote for the Amendment you want legislation in this session to hold a referendum. If you vote against it you clearly do not want a referendum. It would be most unusual for an amendment critical of a Queen’s speech to pass. Previous governments of a single party have united behind their Queen’s speech programme and voted down criticisms.
The Motion does not tell us when the referendum should be held, or even what the referendum should ask in detail. The reason for that was simple. Mr Baron wished to maximise support for his motion. This motion allows an MP who wants to legislate soon for a referendum in 2017 to vote Yes, as well as a person who wants an immediate In/Out referendum and an MP who wants a Mandate referendum now.
Those of you who want an In/Out referendum now will probably complain. The truth is that amongst MPs even on the side of a referendum on the EU there are split views on how and when. It would be a pity to lose this motion by being too specific and putting off MPs from supporting it because they do not like the detail.
It appeared yesterday the motion has already attracted the support of a very important MP, Mr Cameron. He was reported to say Conservative Ministers can vote for it, a necessary condition for the motion to have a better chance of passing. This morning we read that Conservative Ministers can merely abstain whilst backbenchers can vote for it.
Now the question is what will Mr Miliband do? If he asks Labour to vote for the motion, it would pass with or without the Conservative Ministers. I read he is not going to support it. If he merely ask them to abstain from voting, the motion will now pass thanks to the majority of Conservative MPs voting for it, with many Ministers abstaining. I assume the Lib Dems, Green and most Nationalists will vote against the referendum. There will be quite enough Conservative backbenchers for the amendment to carry it if Labour abstains en masse. Conservative Ministers abstaining will swell the majority.
If Parliament approves this amendment, then the next step will be to present a Bill, where the questions of when and what referendum have to be addressed. There is substantial debate within Parliament on these issues, which I will talk about more tomorrow. Parliament needs to get closer to a common view to be able to legislate.
If Parliament passes the amendment it will not be good enough for the government to say that there will still be no Bill for a referendum. The will of Parliament will have come into line with the wishes of ther people to get on with sorting out our relationship with the EU by involving the voters in this overriding issue.