This afternoon the House of Commons has finally finished working its way through the many dozens of amendments put down by hostile MPs, in an attempt to take up time the limited time available to the Bill.
Labour MP Mike Gapes has been at the forefront of attempts to block the Bill, proposing dozens of amendments himself. Gapes has attempted to justify this by claiming he was merely doing his duty as an MP and subjecting the Bill to proper scrutiny. However, many of his amendments were contradictory, such as the multiple amendments he tabled that each proposed a different date for the referendum. That’s not scrutiny, it’s time-wasting. Put it together with the lengthy speeches and countless interventions made by Gapes and others on the Labour benches and a clear picture emerges: that of a group of pro-EU MPs determined to stop ordinary voters having their say.
The consideration of amendments was immediately followed by the Bill’s Third Reading. This is normally a short debate followed by a vote, but in a repeat of the Second Reading, all the MPs who had spent days voicing their opposition and energetically obstructing the Bill suddenly were overcome by shyness — not a single MP wanted to vote against it! So the Third Reading went ahead unopposed, without a vote even taking place.
This puts the delaying tactics of pro-EU MPs in an particularly unfavourable light. However wrong or misguided, it’s perfectly possible for an MP to have a principled opposition to the idea of referendums. This is certainly what many have claimed, when justifying the all days they’ve taken up in debating the amendments. But if they’re telling the truth, then they should stick to their principles and publicly vote against the Bill when given the chance to do so. Instead they try to quietly suffocate the Bill with endless hours of debate, while hiding behind the mask of ‘scrutiny’. It’s cowardly, underhand behaviour.
The end of the amendments debate and Third Reading is at approximately 13:55:34
Still, for all the sabotage attempts, the Bill has successfully reached another milestone on its journey into law. Unfortunately, we’re still only half way there. Now the Bill goes to the House of Lords, where the same process of debate and amendments must be gone through. The fear is that pro-EU Lords (of which there are many, with a great many of yesteryear’s politicians, diplomats and eurocrats infesting the red benches) will also make a concerted effort to prevent the Bill becoming law.
Lords are, of course, beyond the reach of the democratic axe, whose menacing shadow focusses MPs’ minds when they decide how (or, in this case, if) they should vote. But for the unelected Lords to block referendum legislation that has both the overwhelming support of the electorate and was passed unopposed by the elected Commons would be deeply controversial move. It would be a decision that would loom large over any debate about reform of the House of Lords for many years to come.
What’s more, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg will be taking a big gamble if they assume that voters’ anger will not turn in their direction, if Labour and Liberal Democrat Lords are given free rein to kill off this Bill. Miliband and Clegg must tell their Lords that they are not to obstruct the EU Referendum Bill.
James Harvard, Campaign Manager