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

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Why Liam Fox had to go

By DAVID WOODING

LIAM Fox finally quit the Cabinet today after the secret money trail which funded his Best Man’s globe-trotting was exposed.

The Defence Secretary was forced to go as wealthy backers claimed he asked Tory donors to help pay for Adam Werrity’s travels.

Dr Fox (pictured left) had clung on to his job after more than a week of damaging revelations of how his 34-year-old ex-flatmate posed as an unofficial adviser and accompanied him 18 foreign trips in 16 months.

But he was left with no choice but to resign tonight after it emerged he had solicited money to foot the £157,000 bill for Mr Werrity to fly the world with him.

Venture capitalist Jon Moulton, who gave up to £35,000 towards the trips, is said to have claimed that Dr Fox asked for the cash.

All week, political commentators have warned it was the money which could be the minister’s downfall – and so it proved.

The cash revelations left him open to accusations of a conflict of interest and he threw in the towel.

In his resignation letter, Dr Fox said it was in the “national interest” that he should go because he had allowed personal interests and government activities to become “blurred”.

Mr Werrity, who did not work for the government and had not been security vetted, had linked up with his close pal on trips across the world, including to Sri Lanka and Washington.

Dr Fox is the first Tory to quit the coalition Cabinet – the only other casualty was Lib Dem David Laws who resigned last year over revelations he claimed £40,000 of taxpayers’ money to pay rent to his boyfriend.

David Cameron swiftly replaced Dr Fox at the MoD with Philip Hammond, who is seen as a safe pair of hands ripe for a higher profile job.

The PM also took the opportunity to promote two young women.

Justine Greening replaces Mr Hammond at the Department of Transport, swelling the female ranks of the Cabinet.

Chloe Smith, 29, takes Ms Greening’s job as Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

Shadow defence secetary Jim Murphy said the resignation was “unavoidable and inevitable”.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Theresa’s got her claws out for boss cat Ken

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

KITTEN-heeled Theresa May got in a right cat flap with Cabinet colleague Ken Clarke today – over the Human Rights Act.

The Home Secretary had her claws out after he poured scorn on her claim that an illegal immigrant dodged a deportation order to look after his pet pussy.

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Home Secretary Theresa May chats to David Wooding in her office.

Mrs May had seized on the story to highlight her opposition to the controversial laws in a speech to the Tory conference in Manchester.

She won a standing ovation when she told of “the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I’m not making this up – he had a pet cat.”

But moments later, Cabinet top cat Mr Clarke stamped all over her claim with his size 11 Hush Puppies by claiming she had over-hyped the story.

The Justice Secretary declared: “I will have a small bet with her that nobody has ever been refused deportation on the grounds of a cat.

“I’ve never had a conversation on the subject with Theresa, so I’d have to find out about these strange cases she is throwing out. I cannot believe anybody has ever had deportation refused on the basis of owning a cat.”

He later quipped: “I heard Theresa refer to it and I sat there with a Victor Meldrew reaction. I thought… I can’t believe it.”

Mrs May was privately furious at the cat-astrophic intervention by Mr Clarke, who’s had a ban run of his own over his “soft” stance on prison sentences.

It was the fist Cabinet bust-up since the rally opened on Sunday and tonight both sides were hurling details of the case at each other to defend their corner.

A Home Office source said the case highlighted how illegal immigrants were taking the Act to extremes by exploiting the section which gives them a right to a family life.

Claws out: Ken Clarke

Mr Clarke, who is due to receive a recort on the European Convention on Human Rights,  said the Home Secretary had failed to consult him before making her remarks.

He said: “When I found out what these examples are that have upset her, I will probably find that she agrees with me. It is these daft misinterpretations of the Act which are giving the whole thing a bad reputation, when we should be a force in favour of human rights and individual liberty in the modern world, not in any way resiling from it.”

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

What can the Tories do for the North?

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

The North-South divide is wider than at any time since the 1980s – with a huge gap in unemployment levels, school standards and health.

It presents a golden opportunity for David Cameron to succeed in Labour’s traditional heartlands by tackling this age-old problem.

But what can the Tories do for the North? Tonight we will attempt to answer that question at a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in Manchester.

Angel of the North statue.

I will be joining a panel of fellow Northerners to discuss what action can be taken to bridge the traditional gulf over the next few years.

With the electoral battleground moving further north, we will be asking why the Tories did so badly in the North at the last election and how they can do better next time.

Is it time for the government to have a proper strategy for the poorest counties in the land? And at a time when public services are being cut, what hope is there for a region which relies so heavily on them for work?

The panel includes Manchester MP Graham Brady,  YouGov pollster Anthony Wells, Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council and David Skelton, deputy director of Policy Exchange think tank, who are organising the event.

The event kicks off at 5.15pm tonight in the Novotel Centre, 21 Dickinson Street, Manchester.