Cameron tried to con the UK public that only he cares about a EU Referendum Bill
14 May 2013 Last updated at 17:01
David Cameron: EU referendum bill shows only Tories listen
David Cameron has said only his party is offering a “clear choice” about the UK’s future in Europe after the Tories published a draft bill outlining plans for a referendum by the end of 2017.
The prime minister said the Liberal Democrats and Labour were not willing to listen to the public on the issue.
Critics have said the prime minister is being dictated to by his backbenchers.
But he said his “act of leadership” in making the referendum pledge had kick-started the current debate on Europe.
The Conservatives have published a bill aimed at reassuring the party’s MPs that, if they win the next election, the party will fulfil the PM’s commitment earlier this year to let the public have their say on the UK’s future in Europe.
The bill states that voters would be asked the question “do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?” in a referendum to be held no later than 31 December 2017.
Many Tories were unhappy plans for an in-out EU referendum were not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech – which lays out the government’s plans for the next year.
But, speaking in the US – where he is on a three day-visit – Mr Cameron said this was not possible because his Lib Dem coalition partners opposed such a step.
Asked whether he had consulted his deputy Nick Clegg before publishing the bill, Mr Cameron said he had discussed the whole issue of the UK’s future relationship with the EU “in quite a lot of details”.
“It is well known that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats do not agree about Europe,” he said.
“We want a renegotiation, they don’t, we want an in-out referendum, they don’t.
“When the dust settles on this what people will see is one party, the Conservative Party, offering this very clear, very compelling choice in the national interest, reforming the EU, changing the Britain’s relationship with it and giving people the chance of an in-out referendum.
“And the other two main parties saying they don’t want to listen to the views of the people on this issue. That is the truth of… what is actually under debate at the moment.”
Some Conservative MPs have suggested the prime minister is pursuing the wrong strategy while one, Philip Hollobone, said No 10 had been “in chaos” over the issue in the past few days amid open divisions in the party about whether the UK should remain in the EU or leave.
Up to Conservative 100 MPs could support an amendment to the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday, signalling their “regret” that legislation paving the way for a future referendum was not in the programme.
The prime minister said it was a “complete misconception” to suggest the MPs were opposing the Queen’s Speech as a whole by tabling the amendment, and repeated his position that he was “relaxed” about how backbenchers voted.
Ministers, including several who have said they would vote to leave the EU if a referendum was held now, will be required to abstain although the amendment is unlikely to pass because Labour and the Lib Dems are set to vote against.
No 10 has dismissed any comparisons between Mr Cameron and former Prime Minister Sir John Major, whose government was damaged by ongoing rows about Europe during the 1990s.
Mr Cameron said he was the first party leader in “30, 40 years” to offer the public a choice on the UK’s membership of the EU on the basis of a “reassessment” of what is in the country’s national interest.
“The whole reason we are having this debate is because of the act of leadership I took to say it is time now for Britain to renegotiate our relationship, to seek change in Europe and seek a referendum for that change.”
The draft legislation could be brought to the Commons for debate by one of the party’s backbench MPs in the form of a private member’s bill, rather than one sponsored by the government.
The ballot to choose who can bring forward private members’ bills will be held on Thursday and, although they have little chance of becoming law, there is non-government parliamentary time available for them to be debated.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the Conservatives’ strategy was aimed at contrasting their referendum pledge with Labour and Liberal Democrat opposition to such a move.
Labour says committing to hold a referendum in four years’ time is not the “right choice” for the country and internal Tory “machinations” are causing uncertainty at a time when securing economic recovery should be the government’s priority.
“Our agenda is reform and change within Europe, not exit from the European Union,” said shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander.
The Lib Dems said the government had already legislated to seek public approval before any further powers were handed to Brussels, and accused their coalition partners of “navel-gazing” over Europe.
The UK Independence Party – which campaigns for a UK exit – described the proposed draft bill as “nothing more than gesture politics”.