EU referendum top priority for UK Government

EU referendum top priority for UK Government

The new Conservative administration is set to publish a European Union Referendum Bill as soon as next week, according to a senior Whitehall source quoted in press reports.

A piece of legislation to enable an in-out referendum on the European Union is expected to be among the first bills published on Thursday 28 May, a day after the delivery of the Queen’s Speech.

The Conservatives have pledged to renegotiate the relationship between the UK and the EU and put the new deal to a referendum by the end of 2017.

It is possible the vote could even be brought forward to 2016.

A Whitehall insider reportedly told The Guardian last week: “The mood now is definitely to accelerate the process and give us the option of holding the referendum in 2016. We had always said 2017 was a deadline rather than a fixed date.”

The result of the referendum could spark calls for a second Scottish independence referendum, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hinting that British moves to leave the UK would qualify as a “material change” significant enough to revisit the national question.

She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “The example I have used is if there was an in/out referendum, and clearly with a majority Tory government that must be on the horizon, and Scotland voted to stay in the EU and the rest of the UK voted to come out, I think there would be significant opinion in Scotland that we had to re-look at the issue of independence.”

Calls for the EU referendum result to be followed only if the same result is reached in all four parts of the UK have been rejected by Prime Minister David Cameron (pictured).

The SNP manifesto included the commitment: “If an in/out EU referendum does go ahead, we will seek to amend the legislation to ensure that no constituent part of the UK can be taken out of the EU against its will.

“We will propose a ‘double majority’ rule - meaning that unless England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each vote to leave the EU, the UK would remain a member state.”

Speaking after his first face-to-face meeting with Ms Sturgeon after the election, Mr Cameron said: “We put forward in a manifesto the clearest possible pledge of a renegotiation and an in/out referendum by the end of 2017.

“That manifesto has now been backed at a UK wide general election so I believe I have a mandate for that, rather in the same way that the SNP felt they had a mandate for their referendum.

“They didn’t give Orkney and Shetland an opt out, or the Borders an opt out, so this is a UK pledge, it will be delivered for the UK and it will be debated and discussed in Parliament after we publish the Queen’s Speech.”

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