The Prime Minister met a group of Tory backbenchers in Downing Street this afternoon to discuss Friday's Europe speech. I have spoken to the group's ringleader, John Baron, who has stressed the confidential manner of the discussion, but has given Coffee House readers some exclusive details of what went on.
John Baron, Peter Bone, Edward Leigh, Mark Reckless, Philip Davies and Steve Baker attended the meeting. They were representing the 100 Conservative backbenchers who had signed the original letter in June calling for legislation in this Parliament for a referendum in the next.
The meeting, which had a good atmosphere, lasted 20-25 minutes, and Baron and colleagues reiterated to the Prime Minister the letter's two demands. First, the British people needed to be given a clear commitment – preferably for a referendum – which was believable, because there had been too many broken promises in the past. This is why the group is calling for legislation in this Parliament for a referendum in the next. Second, a referendum has to be credible and therefore include an ‘out’ option – the ‘in’ option presumably being the Prime Minister’s renegotiated position.
Baron wants to keep the Prime Minister's responses confidential, but adds:
'I do not believe that a referendum should be held soon: the Prime Minister does need time for a renegotiation, and we all accept that. I do not think that it would be difficult to get legislation on this through Parliament: after all, it was a Liberal policy and it does not have to be a long bill. It can be a one-sided bill.'