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EU vote MP denies leadership aim

A bid to guarantee a public vote on Britain's EU membership before the general election was dismissed by ministers and Tory eurosceptics, leaving the MP behind it forced to deny leadership ambitions.

Adam Afriyie's dramatic announcement that he would seek a Commons vote on a 2014 in/out referendum sparked anger in Downing Street which said David Cameron would "not let it stand".

But fears his intervention could reignite Conservative in-fighting on the issue proved unfounded as colleagues from all sides of the argument united in opposition.

The Windsor MP - who has been touted as a leadership candidate - used an article in the Mail on Sunday to suggest voters were "not convinced" about the Prime Minister's pledge of a vote in 2017.

He said he wanted to "strengthen" the Prime Minister's hand in renegotiating the UK's membership by amending legislation aimed at enshrining that promise in law.

"It's in our national interest to resolve this issue as soon as possible to create the certainty and stability our country needs for the future," he wrote - suggesting a date of October 23, 2014.

"The fact is, the British people are not convinced there will be a referendum at all if we wait until after the next general election," he said, claiming the support of "m any MPs" from all parties for an earlier vote.

He faced immediate warnings however that he risked scuppering altogether the leadership-backed private member's bill designed to place the 2017 referendum guarantee on the statute book.

James Wharton - the backbench MP sponsoring the European Union (Referendum) Bill - said any amendments played into the hand of opposition parties seeking to block the legislation.

"I hope MPs will decline to support it as the ultimate impact might well be to kill my Bill, which would only help those who don't want any referendum at all," he said.

His criticism was echoed by fellow MPs - including several among the 115 who rebelled against Mr Cameron over the failure to include a referendum bill in the Queen's Speech.

Dominic Raab said Mr Afriyie was a "good guy" but risked undermining the fragile "unity of purpose" Mr Cameron's aim of legislating for a 2017 referendum had achieved in Tory ranks.

"As well as fragmenting that unity of purpose, I fear that Adam's amendment lets the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party off the hook," he told the BBC

"I'm not sure there is going to be huge support."

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have dismissed the bill as a stunt designed to shore up the Prime Minister's position with his rank and file - insisting it has almost no chance of becoming law.

Tory ex-defence secretary Liam Fox, a prominent figure on the right of the party, urged the party to unite against the Afriyie amendment which he said was a "gift" to opponents of a referendum.

Fiercely eurosceptic Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, said: "No eurosceptic should back Adam Afriyie's amendment, which would have the sole effect of jeopardising the passage of the referendum."

Conor Burns said he was surprised by the move when there was "overwhelming" support for Mr Wharton's Bill and the party had finally established a rare "unity and consensus" over Europe.

"After opposing European integration throughout my political life...I don't want us to throw it when I have a profound sense of a moment whose time is coming," he said.

And Andrea Leadsom, one of the founders of the backbench Fresh Start group which has published a manifesto for powers to be returned from Brussels, said an early vote would be "bad for Britain".

The only voices speaking publicly in favour of the proposed amendment were UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage and Labour MP Tom Watson.

Mr Farage told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "The Conservative problem is that what Adam Afriyie has done is put his finger on the real problem, and that is four years ago Mr Cameron gave us a cast-iron guarantee of a referendum, this time last year he was saying no referendum, he's now saying there should be a referendum, and people aren't quite sure what to believe."

He said he would be "absolutely delighted" with a 2014 vote.

Mr Afriyie insisted he was loyal to Mr Cameron and that any speculation over his ambitions for the leadership was " media tittle-tattle".

"This is nothing to do with me and David Cameron; this is to do with me and my conscious making sure that I, as a backbench MP, makes sure sure that Parliament has the option.

"I think it is a win-win all round and it strengthens the Prime Minister's hand," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"I made absolutely clear from a year ago that I have absolutely no ambition to lead the party", he added.

"I will serve in any position that anybody in my party wants me to."

He predicted that the hostility to his proposal would be shortlived.

"I think people will come round over the next few weeks and realise somebody has got to give this option to the British people."


From Belfast Telegraph