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Tory MP to push for vote on Europe
David Cameron faces a fresh backbench challenge to his EU policy after a Tory MP said he would push for a Commons vote on holding an in/out referendum before the general election.
Number 10 roundly slapped down Adam Afriyie's plan to table an amendment to legislation paving the way for a promised vote in 2017 - insisting it would not be allowed to pass "in any circumstances".
"The PM will not let it stand," a spokesman said.
The Windsor MP - once the subject of leadership bid speculation - said the public was "not convinced" that the Prime Minister would stick to his pledge of a vote if the Conservatives win the general election.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Afriyie said delaying posed "significant dangers", including building support for the UK Independence Party (Ukip) - a serious concern for many colleagues and activists.
And he claimed the support of "many MPs from across all the main parties" for an early referendum.
But he was warned by the fellow Tory MP attempting to steer the leadership-backed legislation through Parliament that the move would delay and even "kill" his private member's bill altogether.
James Wharton said: " This amendment would make it far more difficult to navigate the challenging procedural hurdles we need to overcome and I hope its sponsors might rethink their approach.
"We need to build as broad a base of support for the bill as we can if we are to get it through Parliament and the policy of a renegotiation, followed by an in/out referendum, is the right one to do that and the right one for the country.
"I hope MPs will decline to support it as the ultimate impact might well be to kill my bill, which would only help those who don't want any referendum at all."
The European Union (Referendum) Bill easily cleared its first Commons hurdle in July after Labour and the Liberal Democrats stayed away.
Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have dismissed the bill as a stunt designed to shore up the Prime Minister's position with his rank and file - pointing out that it has virtually no chance of becoming law.
In May, 115 Conservative MPs backed a rebel amendment to the Queen's Speech criticising the failure to include a referendum bill in the Government's legislative programme.
Mr Cameron said that was impossible because of being in coalition with the pro-European Lib Dems but has thrown his weight behind Mr Wharton's Bill.
Mr Afriyie said he would table an amendment bringing forward the referendum date to October 23, 2014.
"It's in our national interest to resolve this issue as soon as possible to create the certainty and stability our country needs for the future," he said.
"Only by setting an early date can we kick-start EU renegotiation talks and give the British people what they so clearly want - a say on our country's future with Europe.
"The political establishment are naturally hesitant but we have nothing to fear by giving people a chance to have their say, either way, on our future relationship with Europe."
Questioning Mr Cameron's tactics of promising a 2017 vote following a renegotiation of the UK's relationship with Brussels, he wrote: " The f act is, the British people are not convinced there will be a referendum at all if we wait until after the next general e lection.
"So many things can change. They don't understand why we can't have one right away - and that makes them suspicious.
"Many people think delaying the vote is just a tactic to allow all the political leaders to kick the can even further down the road."
He added: "In reality, the British people are unsure whether the Conservative leadership would be able to stick to its promise of holding a referendum after the election, especially if in coalition once again.
Even if the Tories did win in 2015 there would remain "uncertainty" over the implementation of the result of a referendum, he suggested.
"Many MPs from across all the main parties want an EU referendum in 2014. But for the Conservative Party, I believe the dangers of waiting are significant.
"Mainstream politicians continue to underestimate and dismiss the power and significance of populism - currently expressed in the form of Ukip votes.
"Because at the heart of a populist movement is a legitimate concern unacknowledged by the political establishment.
"By holding an early EU referendum, we would have recognised, embraced and addressed those concerns."
Senior Labour MP Tom Watson said he would vote in favour of a 2014 referendum.
"I don't want to add to the PM's panic but I will probably be supporting Adam Afriyie with his amendment," he told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show.
"There are a lot of people on both sides of the House who think we need clarity on this now.
"The country has asked for it for a long time. Business is saying there is a lot of uncertainty.
"Parties have got to draw up their manifestos for the 2015 general election and they will be very different depending on the outcome of a referendum."
Mr Watson - who was co-ordinating Labour's 2015 campaign before quitting the shadow cabinet over over the Falkirk selection row - said Opposition leader Ed Miliband had " kept his options open".
Labour's official line is that it would be "wrong now" to match the 2017 pledge but senior figures acknowledge there are disagreements within the shadow cabinet on the issue.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage told Marr: "The Conservative problem is that what Adam Afriyie has done is put his finger on the real problem, and that is four years ago Mr Cameron gave us a cast-iron guarantee of a referendum, this time last year he was saying no referendum, he's now saying there should be a referendum, and people aren't quite sure what to believe."
He said he would be " absolutely delighted" if the bid for a 2014 referendum succeeded - even if that hit electoral support for his party as securing a vote on withdrawal was his key aim.
Mr Farage said that he did not believe there would be any local deals between his party and eurosceptic Tory MPs in 2015.
He declined to be drawn on which seat he will fight at the general election.
Asked about media reports that he would target one of the two seats in Thanet, Kent, he said: "To be honest with you I was thinking about Folkestone.
"But it doesn't really matter: I'm not going to say where I'm standing, I'm not even going to think about where I'm standing.
"I am going to stand, but let's get the European elections out of the way first."