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Coalition stooshie*as Tories refuse deal to get EU referendum bill debated

October 29, 2014 1:53 PM
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

There's been an almighty row in the Coalition over which Private Members Bills should be given government support.

The Liberal Democrats had offered the Tories a deal which would have given both Bob Neill's Bill on an EU referendum and Andrew George's on the Bedroom Tax a fair chance of becoming law. In return, the Tories offered the Liberal Democrats a deal under which only the EU Bill would have stood a chance. We'd have been daft to have let them away with it.

Malcolm Bruce MP ()

Malcolm Bruce MP

Deputy Leader Sir Malcolm Bruce said:

"There is a completely reasonable deal on the table here - each party gets a money bill for a Private Member's Bill they feel strongly about.

"The Liberal Democrats were never going to block their referendum bill. We were happy to allow them to try and get it passed in the House of Commons. But the truth is they have folded like a cheap deck chair and are trying to make us take the blame by adding ridiculous conditions they knew we would not and could not accept.

"It is amazing that the Tories are prepared to sacrifice a bill they say they care about for some short-term tactical distinction from UKIP. They clearly never wanted the referendum bill to pass."

A Liberal Democrat source said:

"The Tories put forward a proposal they know for certain will be turned down by the Lib Dems - a completely unfair deal.

"They know we are not about to sign up to their bill being given government time when it is neither the Liberal Democrats position, nor the Coalition Government's, especially when they are not prepared to offer anything in return. The Coalition Government is a two-way street.

"The only logical conclusion that can be reached is that the Tories don't really want their bill to pass and are trying to set the Lib Dems up as the scapegoats. Why else would they put forward a proposal they know cannot be agreed?

"We can only assume they would prefer it hadn't become law by the time of the General Election. They would prefer not to be talking about their bottom lines in their proposed grand renegotiation and instead try and deal with UKIP by saying the only way to get a referendum is to vote Tory. They couldn't do the latter if their bill had become law."

The unhappy result of this is that Andrew George's Bill to reform the Bedroom Tax and mitigate its worst effects will be lost too. I have to say I am not wildly chuffed at the Liberal Democrat offer to give the EU Referendum Bill a shot at becoming law, but then I probably have a massive and understandable dose of Referendum Fatigue

Both sides are taking the chance to show that they fought for a key priority. But only one side was playing fair and offering a like for like deal. And it wasn't the Tories. They could have given their supposed aim for an EU Referendum a chance if they'd only been able to see the need to deal with the misery caused by the Bedroom Tax and recognise that the policy had not done what it had set out to do. The phrase having their cake and eating it comes to mind.

To a certain extent it's a manufactured row, but it has at least given the Liberal Democrats plausible deniability when the Tories try to pin the blame on us. They don't have much of a leg to stand on.

* Scottish word for a good old fashioned row.

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings