David Cameron will rush out a draft bill for an EU referendum, in a bid to defuse growing acrimony among Conservatives over his strategy for renegotiating Britain's relationship with Brussels. (Includes link to draft EU Referendum Bill.)
The move came under pressure from 100 Tory MPs who had been expected to back an amendment to last week’s Queen’s Speech calling for a bill committing to a plebiscite on EU membership. Tory officials have drafted an “off the peg” bill paving the way for the 2017 referendum; it is expected to be picked up by a Conservative backbench MP and tabled as a “private member’s bill”.
But the bill stands little chance of success. Labour and Liberal Democrats oppose an in-out referendum and see it as desperate piece of Tory party management by the prime minister.
Mr Cameron hopes that by publishing draft legislation he can placate backbench Tories trying to push the prime minister into a more hardline eurosceptic position.
The gambit came as Barack Obama warned Britain it could lose international influence and clout if it left the EU, after senior cabinet ministers for the first time openly discussed a possible exit. The US president said Britain’s EU membership was “an expression of its influence and its role in the world” as he urged Mr Cameron to work to “fix what’s broken in a very important relationship” rather than end it.
Mr Obama said the prime minister was right to try to work at the European relationship. The president said he would be “interested in seeing” whether Mr Cameron could make the EU more open and competitive.
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