Conservative backbencher Bob Neill’s bill – which provides for an in/out referendum by the end of 2017 – was unopposed at second reading. Mr Neil said the bill was all about giving the British public a choice.
Similar legislation foundered earlier this year in the House of Lords when it ran out of debating time amid Labour and Liberal Democrat opposition.
Although some Labour MPs spoke out against Mr Neil’s referendum bill during Friday’s four-hour debate, no votes were recorded against it as 283 MPs voted in favour. The bill, which is backed by the Conservative Party leadership, would create a legally binding commitment to a referendum.
David Cameron has said he will seek to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the European Union if he remains in power after the election, prior to holding a referendum in 2017.
The Prime Minister has argued the UK needs a “better deal” on issues such as immigration, welfare and financial regulation although he is under pressure from Tory MPs to spell out what powers he will seek to claw back and what he will do in the event of not getting the concessions he wants.
Opening the debate, the MP for Bromley and Chislehurst said his bill was “about choice”.
He said, “It’s about giving the British people a choice of something that is fundamental to our constitutional arrangements and fundamental to our future.”
Labour eurosceptic Kate Hoey, who believes her party should back a referendum, said, “I just do not understand how anyone can make a reasoned case for not supporting this bill.”
Supporting the bill, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond drew parallels with the referendum on Scottish independence held last month, saying it was right to give British people a say.
He said, “The European Union had “morphed from a common market into a putative superstate. Ever closer union has led to ever greater disillusion.”