Britain took a step towards holding a public vote on whether it should remain in the European Union when members of parliament backed an effort to enshrine the referendum promise in law.
Prime minister David Cameron is backing the draft legislation as a way to help bridge damaging divides over Europe in his Conservative Party. It is also designed to counter the threat of voters defecting to the anti-EU UKIP at the next general election in 2015.
The bill, promising a referendum by the end of 2017, passed through the lower chamber of parliament despite opposition lawmakers’ attempts to filibuster it. Because neither the Liberal Democrats, Cameron’s junior coalition partners, nor the Labour Party support the call for a referendum, it is being pushed through via an unorthodox legislative channel which imposes strict time limits on debates and reduces its chances of becoming law.
Nevertheless, after a major internal rebellion over Europe earlier this year the bill appears to have helped Cameron unite his party over an issue which has undermined previous administrations.
The bill still needs to be approved by lawmakers in the upper chamber, where it is expected to encounter similar resistance. It could be repealed by the next government if the Conservatives lose the 2015 election.
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