David Cameron was warned last night he faces years of backbench rebellion over Europe as dozens of Conservative MPs voted against the Coalition Government over its refusal to allow a referendum on withdrawal from the European Union.
He won a comfortable majority of 372, but suffered a wounding blow to his authority after Tory dissidents lined up to defy a three-line whip imposed by the Prime Minister.
Mr Cameron appeared to have suffered the biggest revolt ever experienced by a Conservative Prime Minister on Europe.
Earlier, he and Chancellor George Osborne attempted to win over potential rebels warning them in meetings and phone calls that a vote for a referendum would be a huge distraction from tackling Europe's economic crisis.
However, MP after MP took to the floor in a highly charged debate to decry the Government's refusal to allow a free vote on a non-binding motion to allow a referendum.
Two ministerial aides face losing their jobs after supporting a rebel motion (that drew 111 votes) demanding a nationwide vote on whether to pull out of the EU or renegotiate the terms of Britain's membership. Adam Holloway, the parliamentary aide to the Europe minister, David Lidington, effectively resigned on the floor of the Commons.
To cheers, Mr Holloway told MPs: "I'm really staggered loyal people like me have been put in this position. If Britain's future as an independent country is not a proper matter for a referendum, then I have absolutely no idea what is."
Stewart Jackson, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland Secretary, joined the revolt, declaring: "For me, constituency and country must come before the baubles of ministerial office."
They were backed by the Tory grandee and passionate Eurosceptic Lord Tebbit, who suggested Mr Cameron faced many more rebellions on the issue and could even lose his leadership to a dissenter.
"The question one has to ask is: is it likely that a new leader would come from those who are intimidated by the three-line whip into reneging on what they truly believe, or whether it will be those who voted against the Government," he said.
Earlier, Mr Cameron told MPs: "This was not our policy at the election and it is not our policy now. It's not right because our national interest is to be in the EU."Reuse content