EU referendum – a running sore for David Cameron

By DAVID WOODING

DAVID Cameron faced the biggest Tory revolt in modern history tonight in a row that looks set to dog the rest of his Premiership.

Mr Cameron crushed the rebellion thanks to support from Labour and Lib Dem MPs but it left wounded and festering backbenchers vowing never to surrender on the issue.

Up to 80 of Mr Cameron’s own troops opposed him in the Commons tonight and voted in favour of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

It was biggest revolt suffered by a Conservative Prime Minister since 41 defied Sir John Major to oppose the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

Labour leader Ed Miliband taunted: “This massive Tory rebellion is a humiliation for the Prime Minister.”

Some 111 MPs of all parties backed the referendum call, not enough to clinch victory on the issue. Early estimates suggest that about 80 of them were Tories.

Resentment is now mounting not only over the result, but his handling of the issue, with some claiming they were threatened by heavy-handed government whips.

Costly mistake

Two ministerial aides have quit and one private parliamentary secretary is said to have needed medical attention after he fainted during a stern showdown with the PM.

The rebels were given a further boost by two polls tonight which show voters are overwhelmingly on their side

Two-thirds of the public want a straight “in or out” referendum onBritain’s membership of the European Union, according to a ComRes survey for ITV News.

More than half – 54 per cent – believe that joining the union has been a costly mistake, delivering more problems than advantages.

But they are equally divided on full withdrawal – 37 per cent agree and 37 per cent disagree – but 41 per cent want the government to negotiate better membership terms.

And more than half would support pulling out if striking a better deal was not possible.

More than 130,000 have already signed a petition demanding a say on Britain’s future relationship with Europe.

An ICM poll for tomorrow’s Guardian shows 70 per cent want a referendum, with 49 per cent prepared to vote to pull out and only 40 per cent to stay in.

UK Independence Party chief Nigel Farage said: “It is fascinating watching the Conservatives tear themselves apart over this.

Wrong 

“Polls over the last few days have shown clearly that the general public believe MPs should be able to vote how they like regarding an EU referendum.”

But Mr Cameron insisted voting to leave Europe at a time of financial crisis would be like deserting your neighbours when their houses are on fire when you should be helping and stopping it from spreading to your home.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs a referendum on our future in Europe was the “wrong question at the wrong time”.

With the euro in meltdown, and Britain having to stump up billions to keep it afloat, the row looks set to drag on.

After the economy, it could turn out to be one of the biggest issues to dog Mr Cameron’s premiership.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

A vote on Europe at last…but we’re staying in, says Hague

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

WILLIAM Hague has ruled out letting the public decide whether Britain stays in the EU – even if MPs vote for it.

The Foreign Secretary has brushed off a 100,000-name petition demanding a referendum and appears to have shed his hardline Euro-sceptic beliefs, insisting: “Our place is in the European Union.”

His remarks will infuriate the Tory right-wing who are already threatening to use the issue to hijack this week’s party conference in Manchester.

MPs have been forced to stage a Commons debate on Britain’s future in Europe after Independent MEP Nikki Sinclaire handed in a petition demanding a referendum at 10 Downing Street.

More than 80 backbench Tories want voters to have the final say and many Labour MPs could back the move because it would be hugely popular with the public, who now pay an average of £299 a year each to run the EU.

It would be the first time Parliament has held a major debate on a giving the public a say since the 1975 referendum confirmed the decision to join the Common Market – and could be held before Christmas.

But if MPs vote in favour of a referendum, it would not be binding on the government.

And asked if he would grant one, Mr Hague said bluntly: “No”.

He admits the EU is “cumbersome, slow and bureacratic” but stresses the upside is the power of 27 nations uniting on vital issues such as imposing sanctions against Syria.

Mr Hague (pictured left with David Wooding) said: “When you you’ve negotiated them, 95 per cent of the sales of crude ooils are stopped because 27 nations together act on that.”

The former Tory leader’s comments are more remarkable because he fought and lost the 2001 general election on a tough anti-EU stance.

He still believes Brussels has too much power but since entering government has seen the bloc of nations acting as a power for good in the world.

Mr Hague’s referendum snub will anger his party’s Right-wing gathering in Manchester today – but cheer pro-EU Lib Dem coalition partners.

Mark Pritchard, secretary of the Conservative 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, said: “Europe is back as an issue. That is my message.”

Human Rights

But Home Secretary Theresa May has delighted the Right by calling for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped.

She said: “I’d personally like to see it go because I think we have had some problems with it.”

Her words fly in the face of Deputy PM Nick Clegg’s speech the the Lib Dems two weeks ago when he said the controversial Act was “here to stay”.

Europe and human rights will be among the hottest issues for David Cameron in his second conference as Prime Minister.

The economy, law and order and welfare reform will also be high on the agenda.

Mr Cameron will also be keen to reach out to woman after polls show he has problems appealing to female voters.

When asked to score on his understanding of women’s issues, respondents gave him just one out of 10.

In an interview with The Sunday Times today,  Mr Cameron admits he made a “terrible mistake” with his “calm down, dear” remark at Labour MP Angela Eagle in the Commons earlier this year.

He declared: “It’s my fault. I’ve got to do better, I totally accept. I’m the one who’s got to explain who I am, what I think and what I’m like.”

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding