U.K. House votes on EU referendum | Video screenshot from www.guardian.co.uk
The vote in Britain’s House of Commons I wrote about yesterday, was held on Monday night, with about half the Conservative backbenchers defying a three-line whip and voting in favour for a motion to hold a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union. The motion lost by 483 votes to 111—all Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour MPs had been instructed to oppose it—but represented the largest rebellion over the EU by Tory MPs against a prime minister.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron tried to downplay the divisions in his caucus that saw 81 backbench members of his party in open rebellion (15 others abstained) and exposed strains in the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government.
Education Secretary Michael Gove declared support for getting “powers back, so we take more decisions here about employment, about growth, about jobs,” in a statement to the BBC on Tuesday, but insisted that the time was not right for a referendum.
Prime Minister Cameron told the Commons he shared the rebels’ “yearning for fundamental reform,” and promised “the time for reform was coming.” He said the timing was wrong for a referendum, but insisted he remained “firmly committed” to “bringing back more powers” from Brussels.
The Tories confirmed later that two parliamentary private secretaries, Stewart Jackson and Adam Holloway, had lost their posts following their decisions to vote with the rebels.
In the coalition agreement under which the present government was formed, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems—a 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.” A new public opinion poll, however, shows strong support for an EU referendum. This, along with the rebellion in the Commons by normally loyal backbenchers, should act as a cautionary note to the prime minister telling him that he must take a tough stance in future EU treaty negotiations, or face further rifts within his caucus.