David Cameron rebukes Michael Gove and Philip Hammond as he criticises Tories for 'throwing in the towel' over Europe and EU referendum

David Cameron, who is in Washington for talks with President Barack Obama,  hit out at prominent Tories who favour withdrawal for “throwing in the towel”

Washington

Conservative tensions over Europe intensified today as David Cameron rebuked senior Cabinet ministers for suggesting they would vote now for Britain to quit the European Union.

The Prime Minister dismissed the question as “hypothetical” after the Education Secretary Michael Gove and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond became the most senior Conservatives to indicate they would consider supporting Britain’s exit from the EU.

Mr Cameron, who is in Washington for talks with President Barack Obama, also hit out at prominent Tories who favour withdrawal for “throwing in the towel” before negotiations had even begun on the UK’s place in Europe.

Mr Gove and Mr Hammond rocked Tory unity yesterday by saying he would vote to leave the bloc if there was a referendum today – a view thought to be shared by dozens of Tory MPs.

But Mr Cameron told reporters travelling to Washington with him: “There isn’t going to be a referendum tomorrow, so it’s a hypothetical question.”

He also made clear he was not prepared to bow to calls by Tory MPs  to bring forward his promised referendum from 2017 following four years of negotiations to repatriate powers from Brussels to London.

“What matters is making sure we do everything we can to reform the European Union, to make it more open and competitive and to improve Britain’s relations with the EU,” he said.

“[We need to] change those relations so that when we have the referendum before the end of 2017 we give the British public a real choice, a proper choice. Every Conservative cabinet minister is confident that we will be able to deliver those changes and so that is what we are pushing towards.”

He attacked two Tories from the Thatcher years – the former Chancellor Lord Lawson and the former Treasury Chief Secretary Michael Portillo – for announcing they would vote ‘no’ in the in-out membership referendum promised by Mr Cameron by the end of 2017.

“We shouldn’t give up before a negotiation has started. It seems an extraordinary way to go about things,” the Prime Minister said.

“The idea of throwing in the towel before the negotiation has started is a very strange opinion.”

He defended his decision to instruct Tory ministers to abstain in a Commons vote expected on Wednesday regretting the absence of paving legislation for a referendum in the Queen’s Speech last week.

“I think it is a very sensible approach to say it wouldn't be right for ministers to vote for an amendment to their own Queen's Speech so it makes sense for ministers to abstain. But equally it is perfectly acceptable for Conservative MPs to vote for this amendment which is in line with the party's policy.”

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary, accused the rebel Tory Eurosceptics of undermining Mr Cameron, being “silly” and showing “very foolish tactical judgement” .  He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What they’re doing is putting the Prime Minister in an impossible situation. He cannot simply vote for this amendment because it would split the Coalition right down the middle. But at the same time, the motion cannot win, because there is not a parliamentary majority for it. This amendment isn’t going to get carried.

"So all those supporting it will have achieved is, they will have split their own party, they will, as you have seen, cast questions over the Prime Minister’s authority, and indirectly, unintentionally, they will be helping the Labour Party’s prospects at the next election.”

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?