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.
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.
“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.
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