Legislation paving the way for Britain’s referendum on leaving the EU crossed its first hurdle in parliament Tuesday as splits on the issue within Prime Minister David Cameron’s party were laid bare. The House of Commons backed the European Union Referendum Bill as expected by 544 votes to 53 but the measure must now pass through several other parliamentary debates and votes before becoming law. Six hours of speeches highlighted divisions within Cameron’s centre-right Conservatives over Europe and the problems he faces en route to the referendum with a narrow 12-seat majority and dozens of MPs likely to back leaving.
It is time to bring Europe back to the people, ensuring decisions are made as close to them as possible and giving national parliaments a greater role in overseeing the European Union.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond
The vote came the day after comments by Cameron triggered a row about whether ministers in his government would have to resign if they did not campaign for Britain to remain in Europe. Opening proceedings, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said many Britons felt “the EU has come to feel like something that is done to them, not for them." The referendum, which is due by the end of 2017 but could be held as early as next year, was triggered when the Conservatives won a majority in last month’s general election.