Prime Minister David Cameron says there is “no bad blood” following the rebellion by 81 Conservative MPs over a Europe referendum.
Mr Cameron said: “What I would say from last night is there’s no bad blood, there’s no rancour, no bitterness.”
The MPs defied a three-line whip to vote for a motion calling for a referendum on Britain’s place in the EU, with three options: the status quo, withdrawal or renegotiation.
Following remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Education Secretary Michael Gove, Downing Street denied there was a rift in the coalition government.
There’s no bad blood, there’s no rancour, no bitterness. Prime Minister David Cameron
During a visit to Lockheed Martin UK in Bedford, the prime minister defended his decision to impose a three-line whip, saying: “In politics you have to confront the big issues rather than try and sweep them under the carpet. It wouldn’t be right for the country now to have a great big vote on an in/out referendum and the rest of it.”
Mr Cameron endured the biggest ever Tory rebellion over Europe in the Commons on Monday, but he denied his party had been left divided. “These are valued Conservative colleagues. I understand why people feel strongly and we will go forward together and tackle the difficult decisions that the country faces.
“But you have to do the right thing and give a lead in politics and that was what yesterday was about. First of all, the country has a guarantee now in law that if ever there is a proposal to pass power from Westminster to Brussels we would ask people in a referendum first.”
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?
Among the rebels were ministerial aides Adam Holloway and Stewart Jackson, who have now lost their jobs. A Downing Street spokeswoman confirmed that both men had been “removed” but not “sacked”.
You don’t change Europe by launching some smash-and-grab dawn raid. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
“They haven’t been sacked because they were told in advance that if they voted that way they would be removed from government. The difference is, they knew that was the consequence of their actions.”
Mr Clegg, whose MPs voted against the motion, condemned the rebels. He said: “You don’t change Europe by launching some smash-and-grab dawn raid on Brussels. You do it by setting out the case for changes and then arguing the case with other countries.
“We can’t do this on our own. We have to build alliances, we have to convince and persuade other countries – and that is what we look to do all the time.”
Mr Gove told the BBC he wanted “a change in this parliament” on Britain’s relationship with Europe, adding: “We are already winning powers back. We need to win more and that process will require careful negotiation, but what we are fortunate in having is a Conservative party that is united as never before behind that renegotiation.”
Mr Cameron’s official spokesman said distinctions had to be drawn between Conservative and coalition policy.
“We have a coalition government and some of the things that Conservative members of the government are saying reflect Conservative party policy and some things reflect the government’s policy,” he said. “The government’s policy is very clear because it is set down in the coalition agreement.”