Cameron under pressure to hold EU referendum before next election
Challenge Lib Dems and Labour to vote No, says former leadership contender David Davis
Former Tory leadership contender David Davis: “It would be very interesting for the Liberals – and indeed the Labour Party – to vote against giving the public a say on this matter.” Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
David Cameron was last night under pressure to defy his Liberal Democrat coalition partners and stage a referendum on Europe before the next general election.
Senior Conservatives urged the prime minister to hold a “mandate referendum” on his plan to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership as early next spring in an attempt to halt the rise of Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (Ukip).
Ministers warned they could not act without the support of Lib Dems as the Tories lack an overall Commons majority.
However, former Tory leadership contender David Davis said they should put it to a Commons vote and challenge Labour and the Lib Dems to vote against it.
“It would be very interesting for the Liberals – and indeed the Labour Party – to vote against giving the public a say on this matter,” he told the BBC1 Sunday Politics TV show.
“I think the politics of that for them are very difficult. If it was rejected by the other parties, I think that would actually cause a new dividing line in British politics.
“The Lib Dems are one sixth or one seventh of the coalition MPs. Should they have a veto on everything? I don’t think so. Should they have the right to say ‘no’ to something which is so fundamental to the future of the country? I don’t think so.”
Mr Davis said staging the referendum to coincide with the elections to the European Parliament next May would be “an absolute Ukip killer”. Mr Cameron could then go ahead with his plan hold an in/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership once the re-negotiation was complete after the general election in 2015.
Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes made clear they would oppose a referendum in the current parliament.
“I think it would be madness to have a referendum . . . when the priority is to sort out the economy,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Farage, still celebrating his party’s gains in last week’s council elections in England and Wales, made clear there could be no deal with the Conservatives as long as Mr Cameron was leader.
However, he suggested Ukip could form a pact with an alternative Conservative leader.