Amid growing calls from Tory backbenchers for a guaranteed EU referendum, David Cameron will publish a draft bill to assure a law on the referendum by 2017.
The dramatic decision to rush out the draft legislation comes on the eve of a ballot in the House of Commons to force a vote on the issue of a future EU referendum, led by Tory backbenchers.
The Conservative party hopes that the draft bill promising a referendum by the end of 2017 will reassure them.
Mr Cameron is forced to resort to draft legislation, rather than an official government bill, because of opposition from the Liberal Democrat coalition partners, who have said they are “nonplussed” by the latest Tory gambit.
The rebellion is an attempt to pin down the government after the Queen’s speech contained no mention of an EU referendum vote in the Queen’s speech.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the draft bill would show that “even though we can’t pass legislation as the government in this parliament, we really do mean to have that referendum by the end of 2017 after seeking a new settlement with the European Union”.
He also said that the move would force Labour and the Lib Dems to “show their hand” on Europe and make clear whether they are willing to match the Tories’ commitment to offer the public a referendum following renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU after the 2015 election.
At the weekend, Education Secretary Michael Gove and Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond became the two most senior Conservatives to say they would vote to leave the EU, if a vote was held now.
Mr Cameron’s decision to table a draft bill was announced last night during his visit to the US, when he repeated his assurances that he is determined to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s relationship with the EU.
His committment was supported by US President Barack Obama, who said: “David’s basic point – that you probably want to see if you can fix what is broken in a very important relationship before you break it off – makes some sense to me.”