Tomorrow, James Wharton’s EU Referendum Bill heads back to the House of Commons for a few Fridays of final consideration by MPs. My organisation, the People’s Pledge, is urging MPs to unite behind the Bill, back it unamended and send it to the House of Lords with the ringing approval of the people’s representatives.
But with several evident threats to the Bill’s further progress on the horizon, it’s also time to consider who might get the blame if the Bill fails to proceed to the House of Lords. That’s what, this week, we have sought to answer with a new league table of the MPs, plus a shock MEP, currently vying for the blame if Wharton’s Bill runs out of parliamentary time.
Our list reveals the candidates currently most likely to enter the public record as having, by their actions, scuppered the EU Referendum Bill. Unless James Wharton’s Bill succeeds, one of them – or perhaps, ultimately, a member of the House of Lords – will end up topping our ranking as the person most responsible for preventing an EU referendum commitment being written into law.
Probably unforseen by many readers of this blog since James Wharton first presented his Bill, the Number One biggest threat to its successful progress is a currently a Conservative – Adam Afriyie MP.
Afriyie’s highwire intervention, gambling a potential legal commitment to consult people on Britain’s membership of the EU regardless of the outcome of the next election for a slightly earlier vote, has provoked deserved criticism.
Many EU referendum supporters, the People’s Pledge included, would be happy to see this vote happen sooner rather than later. But the big prize offered by James Wharton’s Bill is that it would put a future government of any party seeking to dodge giving people a say on the EU in the very difficult political position of having to repeal a popular EU Referendum Act.
Given that the result of the next election is very likely to be close, who would dare, realistically, to pro-actively rip up such a popular measure?
But the problems with Mr Afriyie’s ‘juvenile revolutionary’ actions go further than it just being a massive gamble with the referendum’s prospects. Few seem to have questioned why he waited until after the Bill’s Committee Stage before tabling his amendments. And if the Afriyie amendments are passed, but the Bill is later scuppered in the House of Lords, his changes may prevent it returning under the Parliament Act due to the Bill becoming out of date.
The combination of endangering an EU referendum ever actually happening, the strange timing of his intervention, and tabling amendments most likely to divide the Bill’s backers has ensured Mr Afriyie currently appears the most likely to deserve the ire of EU referendum supporters if the Bill falls.
Running Afriyie close in second place is a man who has made it his personal mission to try to wreck the EU Referendum Bill – the Labour MP Mike Gapes. The Ilford South MP has so far tabled an astonishing 86 amendments to a Bill that runs to just one page, 57 of which are for consideration in its forthcoming Report Stage.
Gapes’s frenzy of amendments include numerous contradictory changes to the same clause, such as specifying a wide variety of dates on which the referendum should be held, as well as a range of potential ballot questions. One even proposed to turn the referendum into a vote on whether Britain should join the single currency!
Serious scrutiny, or a legitimate expression of his personal opinion, this is not. Mr Gapes’s actions are a clear abuse of Parliamentary process motivated by an anti-democratic impulse to wreck the Bill and block an EU vote that polls show the vast majority want.
Third and fourth places in the ranking go to Lib Dem and Labour MPs who have also tabled dozens of contradictory and frivolous amendments in their own bids to wreck the Bill and rounding off the top 5 is perhaps a surprise entry – the UKIP leader Nigel Farage MEP.
In last weekend’s Mail on Sunday, Farage encouraged MPs to back Adam Afriyie’s dangerous amendments, further increasing the chances of splits among those backing the Bill and it running out of parliamentary time. It presumably hasn’t escaped Farage’s notice that, if a Referendum Act is passed, the EU issue would effectively be neutralised at the next general election.
Nick Clegg makes an appearance at Number 6 for now infamously pledging to back an ‘in-out’ EU referendum at the time the Lisbon Treaty was being debated but, today, refusing to support this Bill. And squeezing into the top ten are the two MPs Barry Sheerman and Jim Dowd, who have backed a range of the bizarre, perverse and frivolous amendments tabled by others higher up the ranking.
The current prospective blame list totals 37 individuals who, from No.9 onwards, comprise the Labour MPs voting back in July to block a Closure Motion in a bid to talk out the Bill at its Second Reading
Fourteen of the MPs in the current ranking are in marginal constituencies, which means the final version of this league table will closely inform our decisions on which seats the People’s Pledge will target for personalised constituency campaigns between now and the next general election, highlighting how MPs have behaved on an EU referendum.
The question that politicians who’ll be voting on this Bill over the coming weeks now need to ask themselves is: Who wants to be stuck at the top of this list, if the EU Referendum Bill music stops playing?
That league table in full:
The EU Referendum Bill’s ‘Most Un-Wanted’
1. Adam Afriyie MP (Con, Windsor, Maj: 19,054)
2. Mike Gapes MP (Lab, Ilford South, Maj: 11,287)
3. Martin Horwood MP (Lib Dem, Cheltenham, Maj: 4,920)
4. Emma Reynolds MP (Lab, Wolverhampton North East, Maj: 2,484 – until recently Shadow Europe Minister)
5. Nigel Farage MEP (UKIP, South East)
6. Nick Clegg MP (Lib Dem, Sheffield Hallam, Maj: 15,284)
7. Barry Sheerman MP (Lab, Huddersfield, Maj: 4,472)
8. Jim Dowd MP (Lab, Lewisham West & Penge, Maj: 5,828)
9. Diane Abbott MP (Lab, Hackney North & Stoke Newington, Maj: 14,461)
10. Douglas Alexander MP (Lab, Paisley & Renfrewshire South, Maj: 16,614)
11. Heidi Alexander MP (Lab, Lewisham East, Maj: 6,216)
12. Jonathan Ashworth MP (Lab, Leicester South, Maj: 12,078)
13. William Bain MP (Lab, Glasgow North East, Maj: 15,942)
14. Luciana Berger MP (Lab, Liverpool Wavertree – Maj: 7,167)
15. Lyn Brown MP (Lab, West Ham, Maj: 22,534)
16. Alan Campbell MP (Lab, Tynemouth, Maj: 5,739)
17. Wayne David MP (Lab, Caerphilly, Maj: 10,755)
18. Thomas Docherty MP (Lab, Dunfermline & West Fife, Maj: 5,470)
19. Michael Dugher MP (Lab, Barnsley East, Maj: 11,090)
20. Jim Fitzpatrick MP (Lab, Poplar & Limehouse, Maj: 6,030)
21. Meg Hillier MP (Lab, Hackney South & Shoreditch, Maj: 14,288)
22. Julie Hilling MP (Lab, Bolton West, Maj: 92)
23. Huw Irranca-Davies MP (Lab, Ogmore, Maj: 13,246)
24. Graham Jones MP (Lab, Hyndburn, Maj: 3,090)
25. Susan Elan Jones MP (Lab, Clwyd South, Maj: 2,834)
26. David Lammy MP (Lab, Tottenham, Maj: 16,931)
27. Ian Lucas MP (Lab, Wrexham, Maj: 3,658)
28. Kerry McCarthy MP (Lab, Bristol East, Maj: 3,722)
29. Andrew Miller MP (Lab, Ellesmere Port & Neston, Maj: 4,331)
30. Stephen Pound MP (Lab, Ealing North, Maj: 9,301)
31. Nick Smith MP (Lab, Blaenau Gwent, Maj: 10,516)
32. Mark Tami MP (Lab, Alyn & Deeside, Maj: 2,919)
33. Stephen Timms MP (Lab, East Ham, Maj: 27,826)
34. Karl Turner MP (Lab, Kingston upon Hull East, Maj: 8,597)
35. Chris Williamson MP (Lab, Derby North, Maj: 613)
36. Phil Wilson MP (Lab, Sedgefield, Maj: 8,696)
37. Rosie Winterton MP (Lab, Doncaster Central, Maj: 6,229)