Lib Dems to spurn debate on EU Referendum Bill derided as stunt

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander
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Liberal Democrat MPs will not attend Parliament to discuss the EU Referendum Bill, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has said.

The Lib Dem Minister said Conservative MP James Wharton’s Private Member’s Bill, which could pave the way for a referendum on the UK’s membership in Europe, was a “parliamentary stunt”.

Prime Minister David Cameron has backed Mr Wharton’s Bill with Tory MPs expected to be under orders to support the legislation, which will be debated in the House of Commons on Friday.

Labour MPs are expected to ignore the Bill.

And Mr Alexander, when asked what the Lib Dems will do on Friday, told the BBC yesterday: “We set out our position on this repeatedly in Parliament.

“I think this is a sort of parliamentary stunt. We are not going to be there. I will be in my constituency working hard for the people of the Highlands, as I do almost every Friday.

“I am sure that’s the right choice given what’s going on in Parliament on Friday.”

Mr Alexander told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show he disagreed with Mr Wharton’s Bill and said legislation was already in place to deal with the issue of the UK’s European Union membership.

He said: “I voted for the legislation this Government brought forward, which for the first time will guarantee a referendum takes place whenever there is a further change in the European treaties that affect Britain.

“That Bill guarantees a referendum will take place if there are future treaty changes. That’s what we promised in our manifesto.

“I think what’s wrong with this (James Wharton’s Bill) is the idea that we should somehow be wasting our influence in Europe going after nation-specific repatriation rather than using our influence in Europe to build up the European economy, to support measures that will improve job creation and growth prospects across Europe – as we know from the eurozone that’s what’s knocking our economy back so much.”

Referring to the role of the UK Independence Party Mr Alexander added: “I think most people in this country recognise that our membership of the European Union – the jobs, the trade, the growth – the security that provides is vitally important to this country, not just now but for many decades to come.

“I am quite confident in that argument. Ukip will come and Ukip will go but what matters is Britain stays a full member of the European Union, that we have a referendum as and when a major treaty change takes place but we don’t try and conjure one up out of nothing for domestic political reasons.”

Shadow cabinet member Chuka Umunna said Labour would only commit to a referendum if there was a further shift of UK powers to Europe.

He told Sky News: “We are not getting involved in what is basically an internal debate to the Conservative Party. We won’t be there. I will be in my constituency on the day – I know many other Labour MPs will as well.

“We’ve been clear we need to reform the European Union. And if there is a proposal to see a further shift of powers towards Europe, of course there should be a referendum.

“But the simple fact is if you look at the latest survey of what are the most important issues that people identify to the UK today, just 
two per cent of people say it’s Europe.”

He added: “This is a repeat of the early 90s.”

Stockton South Tory MP Mr Wharton told Sky News that Labour leader Ed Miliband is “too weak to lead his party” on the EU referendum issue.

Mr Wharton said the Bill should reach report stage by November and pass through the House of Commons, but he was unsure what the House of Lords will do.