Adam Afriyie puts the case for a 2014 referendum on Britain’s EU membership on ConservativeHome this morning. It would thus be bad manners to take issue with his argument, though I broadly agree with the critique of the proposal which Mark Wallace set out for this site last Sunday. But a detail of it strikes me as worth highlighting. Afriyie writes as follows about his planned amendment to James Wharton’s EU referendum bill, which would write the 2014 date into law:
“First, in Parliament, if discussion is taking too long, MPs can collectively vote to end the debate within a matter of hours. Secondly, an amendment may be withdrawn. Thirdly, if few MPs support an amendment then it may not be called by the Speaker. These are all possibilities and there will be no need to take time if MPs don’t want to support a referendum in 2014. I am acutely conscious of that fact and will act accordingly.”
This signals that Afriyie may be prepared to withdraw his amendment if the Speaker does call it, but it none the less finds little support among his Conservative colleagues. Note the words: “I am acutely conscious of that fact and will act accordingly” (my italics). At this point, it’s worth thinking back to last weekend, and the launch by the Windsor MP of his plan in the Mail on Sunday.
I was struck as that day went on by the opposition to the proposal voiced on Twitter by other Tory MPs – 20 by my count. It’s rare for one Conservative MP to criticise another openly in that way. When you have failed to persuade Euro-sceptics as staunch as Chris Heaton-Harris and Daniel Hannan, you are in difficulty. What Afriyie’s plan needs to flourish, in my view, is some vocal support from others.
The Euro-sceptic cause in the Commons has its grand older men – Bill Cash and David Davis and Bernard Jenkin and John Redwood, for example – as well as its thrusting young Turks. But none of any generation seem to have rallied to Afriyie’s standard – yet, anyway. As matters stand, he is more or less out on his own over a 2014 plebiscite. Which may explain why he is discreetly signalling a possible retreat.