David Cameron urges MPs not to back referendum

 

David Cameron pleaded with Tory MPs not to act "rashly and prematurely" today as he faced a major revolt over calls for an EU referendum.

David Cameron pleaded with Tory MPs not to back a referendum on Europe tonight - warning the move would damage Britain's interest.

 

The Prime Minister attempted to placate his rebellious rank-and-file ahead of a crunch Commons vote by insisting the chance to repatriate powers from Brussels was coming.

 

But he insisted those issues should not be addressed while the Eurozone was "on fire" with the sovereign debt crisis.

 

The direct appeal, in a statement to parliament, came amid claims that two ministers and more than half a dozen ministerial aides could defy the Government.

 

More than 60 backbenchers have also said they will vote for a referendum on membership of the EU, in the most serious challenge to Mr Cameron's authority since he became party leader six years ago.

 

Conservative MPs have accused the leadership of bullying tactics and bungling party management by imposing a strict three-line Whip on the motion.

 

There has also been a furious response to efforts by Foreign Secretary William Hague to quell the rebellion, with some backbenchers saying he had "gone native" and abandoned his Eurosceptic values.

 

Delivering a statement to the Commons, Mr Cameron said it was essential to restore growth in the EU by stabilising the Eurozone and boosting free trade.

 

But he argued that an "in-out" referendum was the wrong approach at the wrong time.

 

"It's not right because our national interest is to be in the EU, helping to determine the rules governing the single market - our biggest export market, which consumes more than 50% of our exports and which drives much of the investment into the UK," he said.

 

"That is not an abstract, theoretical argument; it matters for millions of jobs and millions of families in our country.

 

"That's why successive prime ministers have advocated our membership of the EU."

 

He warned that launching legislation for a referendum could be disastrous at the current "moment of economic crisis".

 

"When your neighbour's house is on fire, your first impulse should be to help him put out the flames - not least to stop the flames reaching your own house," he said.

 

"This is not the time to argue about walking away. Not just for their sakes, but for ours.

 

"Legislating now for a referendum, including on whether Britain should leave the EU, could cause great uncertainty and could actually damage our prospects of growth."

 

Mr Cameron said there was also a danger that a referendum could wreck prospects for securing the change that Eurosceptic Tories crave.

 

Fundamental reform to EU treaties would require support from all 27 nations - giving the UK an effective veto.

 

"Opportunities to advance our national interest are clearly becoming apparent," he said.

 

"We should focus on how to make the most of this, not pursue a parliamentary process for a multiple choice referendum."

 

The premier made an appeal to moderate Eurosceptics, saying: "I respect your views. We disagree not about ends, but about means.

 

"I support your aims. Like you, I want to see fundamental reform.

 

"Like you, I want to re-fashion our membership of the EU so that it better serves this nation's interests.

 

"The time for reform is coming. That is the prize.

 

"Let's not be distracted from seizing it."

 

The premier said he had made the decision to impose a three-line Whip rather than allow a freer vote because "this issue and Parliament matters".

 

The result is not binding, and Labour and Liberal Democrat support is almost certain to mean the motion will be defeated.

 

However, a huge revolt and resignations from government could be highly damaging for the Prime Minister. The previous largest Tory rebellion over Europe was in 1993, when 41 MPs defied John Major on the Maastricht Treaty.

 

Mr Cameron has postponed a foreign trip to vote personally and spent the day meeting potential rebels as he seeks to defuse the row.

 

In a dramatic episode, one PPS, thought to be Mark Menzies, fainted during one of the sessions with the premier.

 

He was treated by paramedics and taken to hospital, according to Mr Cameron's spokeswoman.

 

Stewart Jackson, PPS to Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, has pledged to vote for a referendum even though it will cost him his job.

 

Mr Jackson told Sky News the Tories "all wanted to get to the same place, but we're doing it in different ways".

 

But he said he disagreed with Mr Cameron's appeal for patience. "When is the right time?" he asked. "If not now, when?"

 

Mr Hague angered rebels further earlier by comparing the Commons vote on a referendum with a piece of "graffiti".

 

"Clearly our whole relationship with the European Union is a matter that concerns the government as a whole and not just something for the House of Commons to put up some graffiti about," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

 

Wellingborough MP Peter Bone said the Conservative rank-and-file no longer trusted the Foreign Secretary.

 

"The trouble with William Hague is that people just don't believe him on the backbenches," he said.

 

"We think Hague has gone on a travel. He has gone from being Eurosceptic to someone who has got into this ministerial, political world of Europe and loves it."

 

Wrekin MP Mark Pritchard, secretary of the powerful Tory 1922 committee, said the debate would be "a defining moment for many MPs who have for years called themselves Eurosceptic".

 

The Commons will stage a single vote on the issue after Speaker John Bercow rejected compromise amendments to the original motion.

 

The text calls for a Bill to be introduced providing for the holding of a referendum asking whether the UK should stay in the EU on current terms, leave entirely, or renegotiate its relationship.

 

Labour leader Ed Miliband told MPs Britain "could not afford" to leave the EU at the moment and should concentrate on pushing through reforms.

 

But he mocked the Tories for having another "nervous breakdown" on Europe.

PA

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)
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
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
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
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?