The EU referendum bill has just been knocked on the head in the House of Lords. The peers, led by Labour and Liberal Democrat Lords, have denied the bill the time it needs to get through. So the appointed house has defied the elected house and denied the public a say on a matter of fundamental constitutional importance.
This poses a problem for David Cameron. The bill was meant to be one of the ways that the Tories would try and halt Ukip’s advance ahead of the European Elections.
The last thing Cameron wants is the Tory party getting in a bate about Europe and complaining that this should have been government legislation not a private member’s bill. So, the Tory leadership has been quick to try and channel Euroscpetic ire. CCHQ has denounced the Liberal Democrats and Labour as ‘enemies of democracy’, which as the Telegraph’s political editor James Kirkup points out is unusually strong language for Westminster politics. Number 10 is also making it clear that it will support another EU referendum private member’s bill in the next session and is prepared to use the parliament act if required.
The challenge for Cameron is to make the failure of the EU referendum bill about Labour and the Liberal Democrat’s hostility to giving the public a say over Britain’s EU membership. If he can do that, this shouldn’t interrupt the Tories’ recent political momentum. But if it turns into another Tory debate about Europe, then it could drown out the good economic news that Cameron so desperately needs the public to hear.
More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us.