On Friday MPs will have a chance to amend the EU Referendum Bill to bring forward the EU vote to 2014 - before the next general election. But if MPs don't step up and amend the Bill on Friday, the British people will be denied a say on our future in Europe, possibly forever.
If we don't bring forward the EU vote, people will think that the political establishment has ignored them - yet again. No doubt, there will be recriminations in the ballot box at the next general election.
The public want a say on Europe
The British public want a say on our membership of the EU. They have said that clearly over and over again. A whopping 55% of the public said they wanted a referendum before the general election. That's one reason why voters have shifted to Ukip from all the major political parties.
Our businesses want a say too. They don't want this vote hanging over them for another four years. These businesses need to know what the future of this country will look like: will this country be inside or outside of the EU? They need to know so they can decide where to invest and where to ship their goods and services.
The EU Referendum Bill is not the best option
We Conservatives are united in wanting to give the public a say on Europe, but it is doubtful that James Wharton's Referendum will deliver one. I have a lot of respect for my friend and I support his efforts as the second best option but, sadly, his Bill is unlikely to work. The Bill has too many steep fences to jump and it won't clear them all. A 2014 referendum is our best shot.
First, the Bill will need to get through the Lords. This is unlikely because the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have an almost three-figure majority in that place. On top of that, many Crossbench Lords and some Conservative Lords will vote against this Bill.
Secondly, even if we play our cards right, the Bill is unlikely to become law before 2015. If the Lords are dead set against this Bill they can play games to delay this Bill right up until just before the next general election. So even if the Referendum Bill were eventually to become law, there would not be time to hold a referendum before the election. It'll have to wait until after the election - when another Party might be in power.
This referendum won't happen in 2017
If the Referendum Bill beats the odds and becomes law, it'll only face a taller hurdle. Laws written in this parliament do not bind the next Government, so whoever comes into power in 2015 can simply scrap it or push back the date of the vote.
We all know that the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats do not support this referendum. If they did, they would have voted for James' Bill. If a Labour-led Government came to power in 2015, they would probably ditch the referendum. They would kick it into the long grass. They would say that it's better to hold a referendum after the 2020 election because it's a distraction or because we need more time to renegotiate.
That's why we need an early referendum
Lots of MPs want a referendum in 2014 because they understand it's our last chance, but they worry that backing an early referendum might wreck James' Bill. This is not true. Not only is the Referendum Bill unlikely to give us a referendum, but other amendments are likely to be needed anyway, for instance Gibraltarians can't vote in the proposed referendum right now.
Over the next week I will be working with colleagues from across Parliament to bring this referendum forward to 2014. This is absolutely the last moment for MPs to try to give the British people a say on the EU for the foreseeable future. It is time to get this done once and for all.
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