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PM: Get off the fence on Europe

David Cameron has urged his Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues to "get off the fence" over a referendum on Europe.

The Prime Minister said he would be in the Commons on Friday for Tory backbencher James Wharton's Bill which would enshrine in law the Tory commitment to a public vote by the end of 2017. He said he had regularly discussed the situation with Nick Clegg and claimed the Deputy Prime Minister's Lib Dems "have to make up their mind" about the issue.

Mr Wharton's private member's bill will face its first Commons test on Friday, with Tory MPs set to turn out in force to support him. Most Labour MPs are expected to stay away, meaning the legislation is almost certain to clear its first hurdle.

Mr Cameron told reporters accompanying him on a visit to Central Asia: "I will be there. I think this is a serious effort by the Government ... sorry, the Conservative part of the coalition, to get behind this Bill and I think that if, as I gather, Labour are not engaging in this, then there is every prospect of it passing into law.

"And we will do everything we can to back it. In the end, people have to get off the fence and say what they think about it. I totally support it. It is my policy written into law. And I would say to all MPs, turn up and vote."

Turning to his coalition partners, he said: "I've discussed it regularly with Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrats, like everyone else, have to make up their mind, do they want to give the British people a say or do they not?

"I sometimes joke with them that if you go back to their manifesto, it's quite like what their policy used to be and who knows, maybe it can be once again."

Liberal Democrat MPs will not attend Parliament for the EU Referendum Bill debate, Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander said. The Lib Dem Cabinet dismissed the move as a "parliamentary stunt".

He told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show he disagreed with Mr Wharton's bill and said legislation was already in place to deal with the issue of the UK's European Union membership. He said: "I voted for the legislation this Government brought forward, which for the first time will guarantee a referendum takes place whenever there is a further change in the European treaties that affect Britain.

"That bill guarantees a referendum will take place if there are future treaty changes. That's what we promised in our manifesto. I think what's wrong with this (James Wharton's Bill) is the idea is that we should somehow be wasting our influence in Europe going after nation-specific repatriation rather than using our influence in Europe to build up the European economy, to support measures that will improve job creation and growth prospects across Europe - as we know from the Eurozone that's what's knocking our economy back so much."

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