Lords kill off EU Referendum Bill

Maldon and Burnham Standard: David Cameron has promised an in/out referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union by the end of 2017 if the Conservatives win the next general election David Cameron has promised an in/out referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union by the end of 2017 if the Conservatives win the next general election

Tory plans to give voters an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union were killed in the House of Lords today.

Peers voted by 180 to 130, majority 50, to end the debate of the EU (Referendum) Bill at committee stage in the Lords. The debate could resume next week but, with only one sitting Friday left in the Commons, it is now impossible for the Bill to become law.

Speaking outside the chamber, the Tory chief whip in the Lords, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, blamed Labour.

She said: "Labour killed the Bill. It's proved by the fact that is what their chief whip (Lord Bassam of Brighton) and deputy chief whip (Lord Tunnicliffe) who were the tellers on the motion (to end proceedings). I am disappointed."

Tory James Wharton, the backbench MP (Stockton South) who brought forward the legislation as a Private Member's Bill, blamed Labour and Liberal Democrat peers as well.

Mr Wharton tweeted: "Lab + Lib Dem Lords have killed my Bill, the bidding of their political masters. Only the Conservatives will #letbritaindecide."

The final Friday sitting of the Commons is February 28. If it was a Government Bill, further sittings could be granted but the Liberal Democrats have said it would be highly unlikely they would allow this to happen.

As there is only one sitting Friday in the Lords between now and then, and debate at committee stage on the Bill has not been completed, two extra days are needed to ensure the legislation completes report stage and third reading as well.

The Bill therefore effectively runs out of parliamentary time and falls.

Lady Anelay warned peers before the vote that if they ended the debate, the Bill would fail.

She said: "My Lords, if the motion is agreed to, I will not be able to offer my noble friend Lord Dobbs more time for the Bill because the House itself will have collectively indicated it no longer wishes to consider the committee stage."

Earlier, peers made further changes to the Bill when they voted through changes which would force the Government to provide a full assessment before any proposed referendum in 2017 of what Britain's relationship with Europe would look like if the country withdrew from the EU.

It is was a further setback and comes after the Lords last week voted to change the wording of the question that would be put to voters.

The Bill has already passed its Commons stages. Peers were under pressure to pass it speedily and without amendment to ensure it could proceed before the end of the Parliamentary session.

The vote, after more than an hour of debate in the Bill's committee stage, was on the amendment brought forward by crossbench peer Lord Turnbull to compel the government of the day to lay down before the electorate what it thinks will happen in the event of withdrawal from the EU.

Earlier, Labour's Lord Anderson of Swansea said David Cameron's gamble of promising a referendum to Eurosceptic Tory backbench MPs had backfired because they are like penguins who "swallow it down and demand more".

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: "As Labour and the Lib Dems have killed the Wharton Bill, the one way to guarantee a referendum is to vote Conservative at the Gen Election."

The House of Commons was not sitting today.

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."

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