Britain should leave the EU if its people vote No in a referendum, as I will do if we all ever get the chance to vote in one. The best course which Tories who want one can take is to campaign for a majority Conservative Government after the next election, and for David Cameron’s commitment to a referendum to be a red line in any coalition negotiation if that majority is not achieved. But until or unless the voters have given a view, MPs shouldn’t try to pick and choose which EU laws Britain will or will not obey – including those governing free movement. This takes us to Nigel Mills’s proposed amendment to the Immigration Bill, which seeks to re-impose the transitional controls on the entry of Romanians and Bulgarians to Britain which existed until the start of this year.
Some MPs support it simply because they agree with Mills. Others also do so because they’re not to be counted among Cameron’s greatest admirers, or because they believe the amendment would help to stave off local pressure from UKIP. That last calculation is wrong, by the way. The louder public conversation is about the EU, the better UKIP will do at the polls.
But whatever one’s view is on the Mills amendment, one thing is certain. Contrary to some suggestions made earlier this morning, the Home Office is not in charge of its handling – nor, indeed, of the handling of the bill as a whole. Today’s Daily Mail reports that “Number Ten is locked in talks with Tory backbenchers”, while the Guardian is more specific, writing that “the prime minister has dispatched John Hayes, the minister without portfolio who is his envoy to the Tory right, to reassure MPs that Cameron understands their concerns”. It was Downing Street that forced the suspension of the bill, and it is Downing Street that has decided to bring it back. Perhaps Mills will withdraw his amendment when it is debated next week, and perhaps he will not: there is certainly no sign whatsoever of him doing so in this morning’s papers.
The gambit of bringing back the bill will blow up in the Government’s face if the Amber Valley MP presses his new clause, and there is a rebellion on roughly the same scale as the EU referendum revolt. It is therefore puzzling that Number Ten has decided to bring back the bill before its discussions with backbenchers are complete rather than afterwards.