World Bulletin/News Desk
British lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected an attempt in parliament on Friday to bring forward a planned referendum on membership of the European Union, sticking to Prime Minister David Cameron's idea for a vote by the end of 2017.
They voted by 249 to 15 to dismiss the proposal for a 2014 referendum by a rebel Conservative lawmaker, helping Cameron to avoid a mutiny over Europe within his divided party.
Cameron promised in January to renegotiate Britain's ties with the 28-nation bloc before holding an in/out referendum, provided he wins the next election in 2015.
Since then, some anti-EU Conservatives have pressed him to back a quick referendum to try to weaken the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which has poached support from Cameron with a promise to leave the EU and tighten immigration rules.
Conservative lawmaker Adam Afriyie forced a parliamentary vote on a 2014 referendum, but gathered little support from a party anxious to avoid exposing age-old splits over Europe.
"What a waste of time that was," Conservative James Wharton tweeted after Afriyie's plan was defeated.
With Cameron's support, Wharton is trying to pass a law in a personal capacity that would guarantee an EU vote by 2017. Afriyie tried in vain to amend the draft law to bring forward the vote.
The coalition government was not able to propose the law in its own legislative programme because the Liberal Democrats, who share power with the Conservatives, oppose the idea.
Afriyie, who denied reports in January he was plotting to replace Cameron as party leader, had argued that a 2014 referendum would stem the loss of support to UKIP.
Conservatives said a 2014 referendum would leave them no time to negotiate a new deal with the EU. Afriyie's critics said there would be little chance of passing a law guaranteeing an early vote in 2014 because the proposal would not have the support of Cameron and other senior Conservatives.
The opposition Labour Party, which leads in the polls, says the draft law for 2017 is a stunt to appease anti-EU Conservatives.
The debate will help decide the European Parliament elections in 2014 and national elections a year later. Conservatives fear UKIP could split the right-wing vote and damage their chances.
If a referendum were held today, polls suggest slightly more Britons would vote to leave the EU than stay in.
Critics see the EU as a threat to Britain's sovereignty, while supporters say it would be economic suicide to leave.
Lawmakers will meet again next Friday to discuss the proposed law as it makes its way through parliament.Last Mod: 22 Kasım 2013, 22:42