Conservative MPs will be in their constituencies less on Fridays in the near future than would otherwise be the case. In a double-pronged move, William Hague has written to each one asking for diaries to be cleared for July 5, when James Wharton will present his EU referendum bill to the Commons, and Grant Shapps has sent a letter to Association Chairmen about the measure. The Foreign Secretary has also asked Tory MPs to keep their Friday diaries light for the near future. The Prime Minister's latest charm offensive to his Party is under way.
Ed Miliband hasn't ruled out a referendum at some point, and Nick Clegg appears to be re-warming to one (or rather, has been re-warming to one – see Mark Wallace's account of his twists and turns on the matter). But neither will want to see a Conservative-backed bill pass through the Commons, and although some non-Tory MPs will certainly vote for it, it's most unlikely to succeed. Furthermore, I suspect the temptation to amend it by tacking on a mandate referendum or renegotiation proposals will be too much for some Conservative backbenchers to resist.
David Cameron will be hoping that Labour and the Liberal Democrats opposition to the bill will be go down badly with voters – but I'm not convinced that voters will be greatly moved by it. However, some will notice if the proceedings give an impression of Tory disunity, (see today's poll in the Independent) with Ministers and PPS's being whipped to vote against backbench amendments. All this reinforces the case for Cameron to get on the front foot over the repatriation of powers, and set out his own view, rather than see backbenchers set the pace during Wharton's bill and the run-up to the 2015 election campaign.