POLITICS
22/11/2013 07:35 GMT

European Union 2014 Referendum Bid Fails Miserably

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LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: Conservative MP Adam Afriyie arrives for the Ceremonial funeral of former British Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher at St Paul's Cathedral on April 17, 2013 in London, England. Dignitaries from around the world today join Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh as the United Kingdom pays tribute to former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher during a Ceremonial funeral with military honours at St Paul's Cathedral. Lady Thatcher, who died last week, was the first British female Prime Minister and served from 1979 to 1990 (Photo by Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

An attempt by Tory backbencher Adam Afriyie to force a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union in 2014 has failed miserably.

On Friday MPs were debating the EU Referendum Bill, backed by David Cameron, that will ensure an in/out poll takes place before 2017.

However Afriyie had urged Tory colleagues to back his amendment to the legislation that would have seen the referendum brought forward to 2014.

In the end only 15 MPs backed the Windsor MP - with 249 voting against him. Tory MPs were furious with Afriyie for tabling the amendment as they feared it risked ruining a good news story for the party.

The prime minister's pledge to hold a referendum at some point before 2017 had largely united the party and MPs hoped it would also go someway to neutralising the threat from Ukip.

However by putting down an amendment for a referendum in just one year, before Downing Street wants one, Afriyie forced eurosceptic Tories to have to vote against a public poll - giving ammunition to Nigel Farage ahead of the European and general election.

James Wharton, who has been piloting the Bill through the Commons for Downing Street, was less than impressed. "249 to 15 on Afriyie amendment, what a waste of time that was!" he tweeted immediately after the vote.

The Tories who voted with Afriyie are a who's who of anti-EU Conservatives. The MPs who voted for a referendum in 2014 were: Adam Afriyie, Andrew Bridgen, Douglas Carswell, Philip Davies, Nadine Dorries, Adam Holloway, Stuart Jackson, Chris Kelly, Julian Lewis, Stephen McPartland, Mark Reckless, Laurence Robertson, Andrew Rosindell and Martin Vickers. Labour MP Mike Gapes also voted for the amendment.

In a recent interview with The Huffington Post UK, Afriyie argued that Cameron's 2017 referendum pledge was "pie in the sky" as it seemed increasingly unlikely the Conservatives would win the 2015 election. Earlier this year Afriyie was at the centre of rumours that he was plotting a leadership bid against Cameron.

Backbench anger at Afriyie erupted when Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill and MP for Mid-Sussex, confronted him in the Commons tea room. Soames is said to have angrily denounced the Windsor MP to his face as a "chateau bottled nuclear powered ****" who was a "f***ing disgrace".