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 EU referendum: Rebels lose vote in Commons

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Join date : 2011-03-24

PostSubject: EU referendum: Rebels lose vote in Commons   Tue Oct 25, 2011 12:51 am

Sir George Young: "This was not a vote which threatened the future of the government"
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The prime minister has comfortably defeated attempts to bring about a referendum on Europe, despite a sizeable rebellion by Conservative MPs.

All Tory, Lib Dem and Labour MPs were instructed to oppose a motion for a vote on the UK's membership of the EU.

In all, 483 fell in line, while 111 defied party whips, a majority of 372.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the revolt, which could see two ministerial aides resigning, was a "humiliation" for Prime Minister David Cameron.

"If he can't win the argument with his own backbenchers, how can the country have confidence that he can win the arguments that matter for Britain?" he said.

A Downing Street spokesman said many people who voted for the motion felt very strongly, and their views were respected.

"However, the government has to do what is in the national interest. The easy thing to do would have been for us to have avoided expressing a view. It was important to take a strong lead - because Britain's best interests are served by being in the EU."

The five-hour Commons debate on the issue was prompted after a petition was signed by more than 100,000 people.

The motion called for a referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EU, leave it or renegotiate its membership.
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image of Ross Hawkins Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

The government thought it would be bad. And it was.

In fact, it was almost twice as bad as the worst rebellion David Cameron has suffered so far.

The Conservative leader has always cast himself as a Eurosceptic.

Many in his party have decided he is not nearly Eurosceptic enough.

Some Tories think a referendum on EU membership is now a certainty.

That is far from settled. After all, the Eurosceptics lost this vote.

But they think they have won a place for an in-out referendum in the mainstream of Conservative thought.

The government was expected to win easily - and even if it had lost, the result would not be binding on ministers.

The full results are still unconfirmed, but Commons leader Sir George Young told the BBC he believed 80 or 81 Tory MPs had rebelled.

If true, this would be by far the biggest rebellion David Cameron has suffered since entering Downing Street.

Conservative MP David Nuttall, who proposed the motion, argued there were more than 40 million people of voting age in the UK who had not been consulted on the question of Europe.

And he said the UK Parliament was becoming "ever more impotent" as the "tentacles" of the European Union "intruded into more and more areas of national life".

Mark Pritchard, secretary of the powerful Tory 1922 committee, said the debate would be "a defining moment for many MPs who have for years called themselves Eurosceptic".

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Cameron said he shared the rebels' "yearning for fundamental reform", and promised "the time for reform was coming".

He insisted he remained "firmly committed" to "bringing back more powers" from Brussels, but on demands for a referendum, he said amid an economic crisis the timing was wrong and Britain's national interest was to be part of the EU.

"When your neighbour's house is on fire, your first impulse should be to help them to put out the flames - not least to stop the flames reaching your own house," he said.

The Commons Speaker John Bercow announced the result of the vote by MPs

Labour leader Ed Miliband, who was expected to see Eurosceptic MPs within his own party rebel, likened the Tories' divisions of Europe to a rerun of an old movie.

He called the Tories an "out-of-touch party tearing itself apart over Europe".

However, he did agree with the prime minister that it was the wrong time for a referendum.

"At this moment of all moments, the uncertainty that would ensue from Britain turning inwards over the next two years, to debate an in-out referendum is something our country cannot afford.

"The best answer to the concerns of the British people about the concerns of the European Union is to reform the way it works, not to leave it," he added.
'Heavy heart'

Tory backbenchers voiced their dismay at the three-line whip - the strongest order a party can give - on Conservative MPs, which meant any who voted against the government would be expected to resign from government jobs.

Conservative MP Stewart Jackson told the Commons he would vote for the motion "with a heavy heart" and "take the consequences", which may mean losing his position as parliamentary private secretary to Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson.

He said he wished there could have been a well-informed reasonable debate, instead of "heavy-handed whipping" and "catastrophic management" by his party.
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“Start Quote

The only communication I have had urging me to vote against it was a telephone call from the whips' office”

End Quote Andrew Bridgen Conservative MP

Fellow Tory MP Adam Holloway, a parliamentary private secretary to Europe minister David Lidington, had indicated he would rebel, thereby losing his post.

He urged his fellow MPs to show people the parliamentary system could work.

To cheers in the chamber, he said: "If you can't support a particular policy then the honest course of action is of course to stand down, and I want decisions to be made more closely by the people they affect, by local communities, not upwards towards Brussels."

"If Britain's future as an independent country is not a proper matter for a referendum, then I have absolutely no idea what is."

Later, he told BBC Radio 4's World Tonight he still believed the prime minister was doing a good job.

"I'm just a nothing little backbencher and he is the guy grappling with the stuff. It's just very difficult when you have no other option if you don't want to basically let your constituents down, as I would have done, given the particular stance that I have taken over the past few years."
'Piece of graffiti'

Conservative Andrew Bridgen said dozens and dozens of his constituents had been urging him via email, telephone and letter to support the motion.

"The only communication I have had urging me to vote against it was a telephone call from the whips' office," he told the Commons.

Anger was also directed towards Foreign Secretary William Hague, who earlier tried to quell the rebellion by calling the motion "a piece of graffiti".

Later in the Commons, he said a referendum would "add to economic uncertainty at a dangerous and difficult time" and suggested most British people did not want to "say yes or no to everything in the EU".

Tory MPs accused him of going native and abandoning his Eurosceptic views.

The Lib Dems came under attack too, accused of being "charlatans" by Conservative MP Philip Davies for abandoning a manifesto pledge for an in-out referendum on the EU.

But Lib Dem Martin Horwood insisted the party committed to an in-out referendum at the time of a fundamental shift (in Britain's relationship with the EU).

"That's why we supported an in-out referendum and proposed one in this chamber at the time of the Lisbon Treaty," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has said it is the worst time for a debate about Britain leaving the EU as a "firestorm" engulfs the eurozone.

The UK Independence Party, which campaigns for the UK to quit the EU, said the Conservatives were "tearing themselves apart" over Europe. Its leader Nigel Farage urged MPs from all parties "to vote with their conscience, ahead of their party or career".

In the coalition agreement, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, a traditionally pro-European party, agreed to "ensure that the British government is a positive participant in the European Union, playing a strong and positive role with our partners".

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