Ballot-winning youngest MP to introduce referendum bill

Stockton South MP James Wharton
Stockton South MP James Wharton
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The Conservative Party’s youngest MP will push forward with plans to enshrine an EU referendum in law after David Cameron pledged to back his private Bill with a three-line whip.

James Wharton, the MP for Stockton South who only turned 29 in February, won yesterday’s ballot of MPs to introduce his own Private Member’s Bill before Parliament later this year.

He immediately confirmed he will be adopting the Conservative Party’s draft Bill enshrining in law the Prime Minister’s pledge to have an in/out vote on Europe before the end of 2017.

Mr Cameron’s official spokesman said he was “very pleased”, and confirmed all Tory MPs will be ordered to back the measure.

But Labour said its MPs will vote against, meaning only a change of heart from Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats could allow the Bill’s passage.

The Lib Dems have said previously they do not support setting aside Parliamentary time for an EU Bill at the present time.

Mr Clegg said yesterday that leaving the EU would be a “calamitous mistake” for the UK.

Mr Wharton’s Bill will receive its first reading in the Commons on June 19. The earliest date he can request a debate on the floor of the House is July 5.

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield came second in the ballot, meaning he will also be granted Parliamentary time to bring a Bill before Parliament.

The Labour MP said he “had a few thoughts” about the sort of Bill he may introduce, but was not yet ready to make them public.

The ballot came as Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, warned the Tories that continuing to raise doubts about the UK’s membership of the EU was “not helpful” when trying to attract inward investment from firms such as Siemens.

The German technology giant is still considering whether to push ahead with plans for a massive wind turbine factory on the banks of the Humber, and Hull MP Karl Turner asked the Lib Dem Minister to “advise his backbench Tory colleagues whether he thinks an in/out referendum would encourage Siemens to say yes or no”.

Mr Alexander said: “No, I do not think an in/out referendum, or campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, is particularly helpful in attracting inward investment of the sort (Mr Turner) describes.”

However, one prominent Yorkshire businessman who co-chairs the eurosceptic lobby group Business for Britain, said ending the “uncertainty” over Britain’s future was now the most pressing issue.

Alan Halsall, chairman of Silver Cross, the Yorkshire pram-making firm, said: “Contrary to those who claim the uncertainty of a referendum unsettles business, as the chairman of a successful enterprise and major British brand, I see the growing animosity and uncertainty over whether we will get a say on Europe as far more damaging to Britain’s long-term prospects.”