Britain's EU referendum suffers big setback

24th January 2014, Comments 0 comments

Britain's planned 2017 referendum on whether to stay in the European Union was close to collapse Friday after Prime Minister David Cameron's party suffered a major setback.

A vote in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of parliament, means that a bill proposing the in/out referendum looks likely to run out of time to become law.

Members of the Lords voted to change the wording of the question that British voters would be asked on the subject of Britain's membership of the 28-nation bloc.

The original wording of the question as included in the bill was: "Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?"

Following fierce debate, members of the Lords voted by a majority of 87 to amend it after determining that question was misleading.

They did not introduce an alternative, though one peer proposed: "Should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU?"

The bill must now go back to the House of Commons, the lower chamber, meaning it is unlikely to become law before the end of the current parliamentary session in April.

As a so-called "private member's bill" introduced by an individual lawmaker, as opposed to the government, parliamentary rules dictate that there is only a very small number of days on which the referendum proposal can be dealt with.

The bill had previously cleared its so-called "first reading" in the House of Lords as well as several votes in the House of Commons.

It is backed by Cameron's Conservative party, but opposed both by their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats and by the opposition Labour party.

Following Friday's vote, Conservative lawmaker Bill Cash described the bill as a "dead parrot".

Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU before holding an "in/out" referendum by the end of 2017, if his party wins the next general election in 2015.

The bill would legally enshrine his commitment to hold the referendum.

He has been under pressure from the eurosceptic wing of his party, especially given the increased popularity in recent months of the anti-EU UK Independence Party.

© 2014 AFP

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