EU referendum: Rebels lose vote in Commons


Sir George Young: "This was not a vote which threatened the future of the government"

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David Cameron has defeated a bid to grant a referendum on EU membership, despite the largest rebellion against a Tory prime minister over Europe.

The motion was defeated by 483 votes to 111, after all Tory, Lib Dem and Labour MPs had been instructed to oppose it.

In total 81 Tories are known to have defied the whips, while others abstained.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the revolt was a "humiliation" for the prime minister.

"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.

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

This is by far the biggest rebellion Mr Cameron has suffered since entering Downing Street.

The previous largest Tory rebellion over Europe was in 1993, when 41 MPs defied John Major on the Maastricht Treaty.

Education Secretary Michael Gove insisted on Tuesday that the time was not right for a referendum to take place.

He told the BBC: "The most important thing is to make sure we get powers back, so we take more decisions here about employment, about growth, about jobs. These are critical issues.

"At the moment David Cameron is battling in Europe in order to make sure that we can have those decisions taken here. It may be that in the future as a result of the battle David Cameron is fighting for Britain that a referendum may be needed, but my judgement is that we need to get those powers back."

BBC political editor Nick Robinson says Mr Cameron will now face pressure to spell out what he means by promising "fundamental change" in the UK's relationship with Europe.


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.


The Conservative leadership 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 prime minister 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.

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".

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.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, who saw 19 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.

"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.

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

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

Fellow Tory MP Adam Holloway, a parliamentary private secretary to Europe minister David Lidington, rebelled and voted for the motion but said he still believed the prime minister was doing a good job.

'Piece of graffiti'

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).

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.

One Liberal Democrat MP, Adrian Sanders, defied his party's leadership and voted for a referendum.

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 had 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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  • rate this

    Comment number 1207.

    Frankly I am sick and tired of our successive governments forever prevaricating over our membership of the E.U.; of which we the people were not consulted in joining in the first place ? I presonally want a referendum on the E.U. so badly I can nearly taste it !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1206.

    How come David Cameron thinks they are rebels? This is in response to a people's petition for debate in Parliament not to government policy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1205.

    If we did have a referendum, it would have to be after a period (at least 6 months) in which all media reports would have to directly quote 'loony laws' or 'mad directives' - particularly the Daily Mail - since most are home grown, or made up. That way, people's views of the EU would be based of fact, not fiction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1204.

    Cameron's hypocrisy knows no bounds.
    'No your not allowed a referendum on Europe, we're too busy sorting out the economy'
    'Scotland, get on and name a date for an independence referendum.'

    Saw that in the last five years, £42m of the £100m donations to the tory party have come from the city, particularly those nice hedge fund managers. C'mon England you don't deserve to be treated like this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1203.

    1196. toughkardinal

    The whole concept of the European Parliament is not democratic. Whilst I can vote for my MEP or not (as the case may be), I did not get a vote on what they stand for and what they are debating.

    I do not and never will want them to vote on things that impact us. Any unelected body that overrides our elected democratic government is by default undemocratic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1202.

    A non-binding vote which can't even be won by the rebels.

    Complete non-story. Haven't you in the media got anything better to do???

  • rate this

    Comment number 1201.

    some great points being made in this debate - with humour too, such as Adam Holloway speaking now

  • rate this

    Comment number 1200.

    The UK cannot have a referendum on leaving the EU, but the Scots can have a referendum on leaving the UK, am I missing something here?. Cameron the old country is calling are you prepared to let it go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1199.

    I believe Britain first signed up to be part of the European Economic Community/Area (EEC/EEA). The EU is a bureaucratic, undemocratic behemoth draining the finances of European nations for the sake of debating sheep-tagging. MP's are ordered not to call for a referendum on membership because a resounding "NO" would be bellowed from a beleagered British public!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1198.

    Talking about sovereignty is a dangerous game; it always was; but it is especially so now: in the context of the global financial melt-down. The UK has little sovereignty when the views of the IMF, USA-based debt-rating agencies, etc matter so much; and when we are asked to look to an export-led recovery that places us at the whim of overseas consumers that no-one British voted for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1197.

    I'm astonished by the number of people who want to "go back" to the 'Common Market'. They may well want to - but that would involve time travel. The Common Market no longer exists for us to "go back" to. There seems to be some idea that all the other nations of the EU would just jump to our tune and "go back" with us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1196.

    Sorry, but that is a load of nonsense. No EU directives get passed without going through the European Parliament (directly representatives from the whole of the EU) and the Council of Ministers (ministers elected through democratic elections in each of the member states).

    Hardly unelected. It is of course to each person to decide whether to exercise their right to vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1195.

    Just listened to Ed Curry on the i player. She did not make any sense. Why will Euro Pro's not tell us what benits we get from Europe? All I know is it costs us a fortune every year. Something not right with this at all. . . . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 1194.

    Just now
    Yes - let's just pull out of Europe - forget all of the European funded projects, add another million to the dole queue, we're so good at being insular,//

    Interesting assertions, and interesting, that you give no facts to back them up. Shows how ridiculously out of touch the EU fascists are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1193.

    1159.Roy Brookes
    Europe is moving at two speeds. There are those who want full political integration and those who simply want a level playing field - a common market

    Sad to say some of the european states(mainly the south) have atrocious, inept politicians - yes, even worse than ours - so unity might be good for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1192.

    As shown by the sheer volume of comments this is a huge issue for many people. Even as someone who is largely pro-EU (at least the ideal) I think it's surely the best thing to have this discussion and not have a situation where everyone who is anti-EU wants a referendum and all the pro-EU people say no to a referendum.

    I'm not sure of the timing, perhaps, but Cameron mustn't say "no" forever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1191.

    Yes - let's just pull out of Europe - forget all of the European funded projects, add another million to the dole queue, we're so good at being insular, I mean we can always rely on our American friends can't we - NOT! Yes we need to recover some of our sovereign rights. MP's and especially Conservative Euro sceptics should stop putting knee jerk reactions before the country!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1190.

    Who is that hungry super state? Who is dictating? Well, one might say the EU. That's fine. And who is the EU? Well, the UK and other EU members. Who signed the last EU treaty? Well, I guess the UK. Who worked on that treaty? Well, I guess the UK too. So please ... just tell the full story. If you say that the EU is dictating the UK, you should also mention that the UK is part of that dictating EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1189.

    Time the EU was laid to rest. We pay with our taxes serious amounts of money on a daily basis just to be a part of an organisation that has lost its way. quit now and redirect those taxes into the health of this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1188.

    I have no complaint against Mr Hague's statement so long as he never again blames the EU or Human rights act or intereference from Brussels for anything that ever happens in the UK again.


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