In case you’ve been wondering what that strange feeling of tension in the air across the country is, the #LetBritainDecide bill returns to the Commons tomorrow for its report stage and third reading. There is, actually, rather a lot of valid tension – in as much as a backbench bill that will never become law can create valid tension – over the legislation this time around. The first reason is that Labour’s Mike Gapes has tabled a fantastic series of amendments to try to wreck the bill, which join his fantastic series of amendments that he tabled at committee stage. The second is that there are many more Tories planning to vote for Adam Afriyie’s beleaguered amendment than the whips had initially assumed.
Last night at the meeting of the 1922 Committee, leading hardcore Eurosceptics pleaded with Afriyie to drop the amendment, which he said he would not do. Other MPs sympathise that the Windsor MP now feels, after his altercation with Nicholas Soames, that he has to press ahead with the call for an early referendum. But they are furious at the position this puts them in as they have been coming under considerable pressure in their constituencies from Ukip to back the amendment. It’s the old ‘europhile’ phobia rearing its ugly head again, and there are enough MPs who are terrified that voting against or even abstaining on any eurosceptic amendment will attract that tag for the amendment to attract the support of around 25 MPs currently. Some more enthusiastic MPs suggest that as many as 50 Tories could back it, out of fear and while gritting their teeth.
The whips are in a tricky predicament.