David Cameron is being warned to give 16 and 17-year-olds the vote in the EU referendum – or have his timetable thrown into chaos.
Labour and Lib Dem peers are uniting to demand youngsters get a say in the plebiscite by amending the European Union Referendum Bill – and have a majority in the Lords to force it through against Government wishes.
And they are vowing not to back down if MPs overturn the amendments, raising the prospect of a long game of Parliamentary “ping pong” that will stop the legislation being passed before next spring.
IT COULD SCUPPER AN AUTUMN REFERENDUM
That would rule out a vote early next year and could even scupper an autumn referendum which is thought to be the PM’s favoured date.
A senior Labour source said: “The Prime Minister has time to head this off but the noises so far are that the Government won’t give in, so we are more likely to see Cameron trying to deal with the consequences of a Lords defeat when the Bill is back in the Commons in late November or early December.
“We would obviously welcome a U-turn but if the PM doesn’t, he runs a real risk of extended ping-pong – something that could lead to the Bill still being live in early 2016 and which might in turn have impact on timing of referendum.”
On Tuesday, Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay rejected calls to extend the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds, telling peers: “The Government remain firmly convinced that the Westminster franchise should remain the basis for this referendum. Including 16 and 17 year-olds would be a major constitutional change.”
That came after Labour shadow minister Baroness Morgan argued the franchise should be extended as it was for the Scottish Independence referendum.
She said: “The key issue for the Labour Party is that 16 and 17 year-olds deserve to vote.
“This would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for them to voice their opinion. It will, after all, be they who will live with the consequences of the result of the vote longer than any of us.
“It seems highly unfair to deny them the opportunity to speak on the important issue of Britain’s place in the world.”
Last night a Number 10 source said: “The House of Lords has not voted on the issue yet. Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.”