On October 8, I wrote about Tory MP Adam Afriyie’s amendment to James Wharton’s bill for an EU referendum.
Wharton’s bill proposes that the vote take place in 2017. Afriyie’s amendment stipulates a vote in October 2014.
Over the next few days, Conservatives and various pundits from The Spectator, The Telegraph and Conservative Home heaped no end of opprobium on Afriyie accusing him of self-interest, nothing more.
Things seemed to come to a head on October 10. The MP for Windsor laid out his thoughts for Conservative Home, excerpted below:
I entirely trust the Prime Minister to deliver a referendum in 2017 if we win the election, but we have to face the facts: voters are suspicious of all mainstream politicians. All the surveys confirm this distrust. In this climate people may well believe we’re kicking the can down the road. And we can’t stop them thinking that it might happen again in four years’ time. By holding the referendum we will have reaffirmed people’s faith in our Party – all doubt will have been removed …
There is little doubt that many people will vote UKIP in the EU elections next May – maybe just to lodge their protest or spur on the Conservatives to deliver a referendum.
The electoral calculus is telling. UKIP are polling at about 10 per cent. Three per cent voted for them in 2010 and if only five per cent were to support them in 2015, then Labour would win the election. A Labour-led government will not hold an EU vote.
On top of public opinion, businesses thinking of investing here need to know where this country will be in 12 months so they can make long-term investment plans. A 2014 referendum would spare these businesses years of uncertainty and give us an economic boost – something all Conservatives are passionate about …
Finally, an early EU vote lets us tie up another one of our difficult constitutional issues. Late October will leave a month’s breathing space after the Scottish referendum; we could put a line under both of these difficult constitutional issues without them interfering with each other.
Alongside my Conservative colleagues, I trust David Cameron to deliver a referendum in 2017; he is absolutely a man of his word. He is also the right man to lead our negotiations with Europe, and an early referendum will strengthen his hand in these talks …
James Wharton’s Bill is a fantastic accomplishment for James and for the Conservative Party; an accomplishment that we have achieved in the spite of the resistance from Liberal Democrats in the Coalition. I support his Bill, let there be no doubt about that.
His Bill shows that the Conservative Party is in tune with the British people and the businesses that operate in this country. After waiting nearly 40 years people will finally get a say – if we win the next election …
The Spectator published the letter from David Cameron’s 2010 intake of MPs to Afriyie. They want him to withdraw his amendment. The last two paragraphs read as follows:
So, whilst we recognise the sense of urgency reflected in your amendment, we feel that this will jeopardize the progress of legislation and the prospect of a referendum.
Knowing that you value and respect the views of colleagues we hope and request that you withdraw support for the amendment tabled in your name.
James Forsyth, who wrote the piece, makes his own position clear:
Even six months ago, an amendment of this sort would have caused the leadership real trouble. The fact that it has flopped so comprehensively is a demonstration of the new, loyalist mood among Tory MPs which has clearly not been disrupted by the reshuffle. It’s also a sign that his colleagues view Afriyie’s leadership antics with disdain. This amendment would have elicited a very different reaction if it had been tabled by someone with genuine Euroscpetic credentials and motives.
… In fact, the Afriyie operation is, and always has been, a political Trojan horse, a device used by David Cameron’s committed enemies to maximise the Prime Minister’s discomfort and leverage him out of office. All the evidence suggests that Mr Afriyie believes what his so-called friends have told him about his chances. He has come to see himself as an important player in Conservative politics, who has sufficient influence to make No10 tremble and sway his colleagues.
Today we discover that he is not, in fact, the Messiah. Of the 147 MPs in the 2010 Tory intake, 140 or so have signed a letter telling him to drop his amendment to James Wharton’s referendum Bill. This is a signal achievement for Mr Cameron, who stuck his neck out by declaring that Mr Afriyie’s amendment would not be allowed to stand. To have persuaded the bulk of the numerically influential intake to turn on Mr Afriyie is a success. The Windsor MP will now have to back down, unless he is reckless …
What on earth is so wrong with a referendum in 2014?
Afriyie’s political ambitions — whatever they might actually be — take a backseat to the urgent need for a referendum on the EU sooner rather than later.
Are the Tories that stubborn? Or do they really want to lose in 2015?