David Cameron’s attempt to placate backbenchers clamouring for an EU referendum by writing a piece in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph has not gone down particularly well. Backbenchers are more than mildly irked that the Prime Minister focused mainly on the problems with an in/out referendum, when the letter co-ordinated by John Baron (which you can read here) did not call for that. They are also disappointed that the Prime Minister suggested that the time for a referendum was not now, as their demand had been for legislation in this Parliament which would provide for a referendum in the next. One MP told me the response was a ‘smokescreen’.
Baron has not yet heard back personally from the Prime Minister, and has told me that he hopes to intervene to ask Cameron about the matter in the chamber this afternoon following his statement on the outcome of last week’s Brussels summit.
There were over 100 signatures on Baron’s letter, but it’s not the last message from the Parliamentary party. I have learned that five parliamentary private secretaries are writing individual letters to the Prime Minister to outline their own demands for a referendum. When their letters arrive in Downing Street, they will add to the pressure on Cameron for a direct response to the specific calls from his backbench that he is so far refusing to give.
UPDATE: I’ve just spoken to Conor Burns, PPS to Owen Paterson, who has confirmed that he is one of the five who have written letters. He says that he wanted to register his support for the Baron letter even though as a ministerial aide he cannot. Though the Sunday Telegraph article was, he says, an ‘improvement to his comments on Friday’ (where the Prime Minister explicitly slapped down the demands, saying MPs would have to make do with the referendum lock), Burns plans to raise the issue in the chamber too. It’s going to be a busy afternoon.Tags: EU referendum, European Union, UK politics