25 Oct 2011

MPs defy Cameron in record EU rebellion

MPs vote against a Europe referendum, but 79 Conservative rebels oppose the party line in defiance of David Cameron’s orders. Gary Gibbon looks at what the rebellion means for the prime minister.

MPs defy Cameron in record EU rebellion (reuters)

The prime minister had imposed a three-line whip, meaning that those who went against the party line would be disciplined or even face losing their jobs.

But in the biggest challenge to his authority since becoming leader of the Conservative Party six years ago – and the biggest Conservative rebellion over Europe – 79 Conservative MPs defied the prime minister’s orders.

Junior members of the government quit their posts to join the group of backbenchers voting for a ballot on EU membership. As well as the 79 rebels, two Tory MPs abstained from voting.

High-profile rebels included Graham Brady, chairman of the influential backbench 1922 committee, and the committee secretary, Mark Pritchard.

Despite the rebellion, the motion to hold a referendum on EU membership was rejected by a total of 372 MPs from across the political parties.

Where next for Cameron?
Education Secretary Michael Gove said the vote was all about Europe and all about principle, writes Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon.

I spoke to plenty of MPs who rebelled who said it was, for them, actually about personnel management, aloofness, a sense that David Cameron was just in politics for his own aggrandisement and that they were treated like irrelevant oiks who fancied biting back.

And how do you manage this level of disgruntlement? One whip said to me today: I’ve got no f***ing sweeties to hand out.”

Read more from Gary Gibbon: Where next for dented David Cameron?

Following the vote, David Cameron said that he had “no regrets” about triggering the rebellion by trying to force MPs to reject the motion.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “We understand that many people who voted for it felt very strongly – and we respect that.

“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 PM has made clear that he shares the yearning for fundamental reform of the EU and is determined to achieve that.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “This massive Tory rebellion is 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.”