Despite imposing a three line whip on yesterday’s vote on a possible EU referendum, 81 Tory MPs rebelled against David Cameron, in what was the biggest rebellion to face his premiership so far.
In fact, according to claims made by Conservative Party insiders earlier this week, as many as two thirds of Conservative MPs are in favour of renegotiating the UK’s member status within the EU. Whilst commentators and observers have debated the decision to order a three line whip on the vote, there is little doubt that the vote has inflicted considerable damage on Cameron’s relations with Tory backbenchers amidst what the BBC’s Ed Stourton says is the most “Eurosceptic Conservative Party in history.”
While, the motion was widely expected to be defeated, with both Labour and Lib Dem MPs voting against, an ICM/Guardian poll has shown that 70% of voters were in favour of a vote over Britain’s EU membership: 49% said they would favour a withdrawal, whilst 40% said they would prefer to remain. Such figures suggest a complete turnaround in British opinion vis-a-vis the EU – a similar ICM poll conducted in 2001 indicated that only 19% were said to be in favour of an EU withdrawal, in comparison to the 68% of respondents who felt that Britain should retain EU membership.
The repatriation of “sovereign powers” from Brussels to London has long been desired by many within the ranks of the Conservative government – exemplified by Teresa May’s view of axing European Convention for Human Rights – but in spite of this the proposals backing an outright withdrawal have been described by prominent Eurosceptic and foreign secretary William Hague, as being potentially damaging to the UK’s economic recovery, and simply the “wrong question to ask at a wrong time.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg MP challenging David Cameron on the EU.
roughsociety’s final word
In a country where 83% have admitted to having little or no knowledge about the EU’s institutions or inner workings, friction over EU membership is not a new phenomenon. In the British political landscape immigration, crime, the outsourcing of “British jobs”, Thatcher’s rebate – have all fallen under the ongoing question of the extent of Brussels’ jurisdiction. Regardless of this, it’s the Eurozone conundrum that has brought about a vehement backbench rebellion. As Hague rightly notes, Britain disembarking the EU ship is out of the question; not only for the sake of the UK economy, but also perhaps in the interest of remaining in the world’s largest trading bloc. That said, a referendum over the transfer of powers from Brussels to London (all the while retaining membership) could prove one of Cameron’s best hands in fending of rebellion, and one that would be more in line with government policy.