Open Europe Blog

The EU referendum Bill – pushed forward by Tory backbenchers aiming to legislate now for an EU referendum to be held in next Parliament (post-2015) – passed through the Commons with flying colours but is now stuck in the House of Lords.

Labour and Lib Dem Peers in the Lords have just managed to pass two amendments. These amendments are now sent back to the Commons which will have to decide whether to accept or reject them.

Big question now is whether this Bill will run out of the time, and therefore die an early death. This happens if the 2013-2014 Parliament session runs out before the Bill is passed (in the UK system, all proposals are chopped by the end of a parliamentary session). This ends at the end of April.

The short answer is that’s we don’t know yet, but it’ll go down to the wire.

Parliament could attempt a round of Parliamentary Ping Pong, or “Wiff Waff” as Boris Johnson called it, as the amendments are returned to the Commons to be debated – probably on Friday the 28 February. If their Lordships amendments are reversed by MPs they will be ponged back just in time for the end of the session – at the end of April.

But does the Commons actually need to pong them back or could they simply accept it all in order to speed the Bill on its way? Well, the first amendment is about the actual referendum question:

“Do you think that the UK should be a member of the EU?”

Which the Peers want to change to:

“Should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU?”

Well, opinions are divided as to whether the question will make any difference on the outcome – something we looked at here. But the Electoral Commission felt that some Britons were blissfully unaware the UK was in the EU at all, hence their suggested change. The second amendment, to Commission an impact assessment on the consequences of an EU exit, seems harmless enough but will not really settle anything as any impact assesment will become the subject of the dispute. In any event legislation is not required. So perhaps the Commons could accept this one aswell?

Or would it be better to reject the amendments and use the Parliament Act in the next session as we looked at here?

Regardless, this is a setback to the Conservatives, who will take comfort from the political advantage to be made from telling the public that – in their view – Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband do not trust them.

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