JAMES Wharton fears his Bill to guarantee an EU referendum is doomed, accusing Labour and the Liberal Democrats of “conspiring” to kill it.
The legislation spearheaded by the Conservative MP for Stockton South reaches the House of Lords tomorrow (Friday, January 10), after sailing through the Commons.
But Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg – having sat on their hands in the Commons – are known to have arranged talks between their parties, to agree a strategy to block the Bill in the Lords.
No fewer than 77 peers have put down their names to speak on its second reading tomorrow, including Lord Mandelson and former Tory Chancellors Lords Lawson and Howe.
A Labour source declined to discuss the tactics, but told The Northern Echo: “We do not expect this Bill to reach the statute book.”
Asked if he expected his Bill to pass, Mr Wharton replied: “I don’t know. It’s a very complex picture.”
And he said: “Labour and the Lib Dems are once again conspiring to stop the British people having a say. Fundamentally, they don't trust the British people.”
The Bill would set in law David Cameron’s commitment to a referendum – by the end of 2017 - to decide if the UK should leave the EU, following a renegotiation of powers.
Mr Wharton, who has acknowledged he could himself vote for an exit, has argued it is the best way to provide certainty, nearly 30 years after the last referendum.
But Labour has accused the MP of putting the North-East’s economy at risk, after both Hitachi and Nissan criticised flirting with an EU withdrawal.
And even Sir John Major, the former prime minister warned the Bill would backfire because voters would believe the Conservatives were - once again - obsessing about Europe.
The Bill is vulnerable because peers are likely to pass amendments that MPs will be unable to overturn by a tight deadline of February 28.
For example, there is even controversy over the proposed question to be put to voters, which was criticised by the Electoral Commission watchdog.
Failure to get Mr Wharton’s Bill through will expose the Conservatives to a damaging attack from UKIP, at the European Parliament elections in June.
For that reason, Downing Street – which, reluctantly, threw its weight behind the legislation - has hinted it could use the Parliament Act to ram it through.
That could happen in the 2014-15 parliamentary session, after clerks told ministers that the Act can be used, even on a private member's Bill.
The Parliament Act allows the Commons to assert its superiority over the unelected upper chamber – but has been used only seven times in the past 100 years.