100 Tory MPs call for Cameron to prepare legislation for EU referendum
By Tim Montgomerie
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Is the momentum towards a referendum on Britain's relationship with the EU becoming irresistable?
I ask because, this morning, nearly 100 Tory MPs have signed a letter to the Prime Minister urging him "to place on the Statute Book before the next General Election a commitment to hold a referendum during the next Parliament on the nature of our relationship with the European Union".
The letter has been put together by backbench MP John Baron. Although I gather that the full list of signatories will not be released, signatories include a number of MPs recently elected to the 1922 Committee, including Nick de Bois, the new Secretary, and Penny Mordaunt, as well as Chris Heaton-Harris from the Fresh Start Group.
I haven't seen the full text of the letter but it does note that there is "a consistent majority in this country who believe that the EU meddles too much in our everyday lives, .... and that the cost of membership is far too high". It continues: "...a commitment on the Statute Book to hold such a referendum would address the very real lack of public trust when people hear politicians making promises...".
The thinking behind this "legislate now" demand runs something like this... Any last minute commitment to a referendum in the 2015 manifesto could have a crediblity problem. Added to which is the risk that Ed Miliband might get there first and come out with some sort of offer of a referendum of his own. By bringing legislation for a referendum before Parliament now, the Lib Dems and Labour might vote the proposal down, but in doing so it would put them firmly on the wrong side of public opinion.
It is not clear that David Cameron will be able to deliver on this request but the letter is yet another sign of deepening Euroscepticism within the Conservative Party. More MPs have signed this letter than voted in last year's rebellion 'of the 81'. John Redwood claimed this week that a vote on Europe is the number one demand of grassroots Tories. That certainly chimes with what we find in our polling of party members. Conservative frontbenchers may not be able to sign letters to David Cameron but my guess is that they aren't very different in their worldview. Earlier this month policing minister Nick Herbert stated that it was "ultimately right" for the British people to have a referendum to "resettle [our] relationship" with the EU.