Parliament will debate EU referendum as rebel MPs force issue on Cameron with Private Member's Bills

PM's tactics and leadership will be questioned after 114 Tory MPs vote for Queen's Speech amendment

New York

David Cameron's authority suffered a huge blow when more than 100 Conservative MPs defied him by voting for a referendum on the European Union.

Britain moved closer to an in/out referendum as Nick Clegg told MPs: "It is a question of when, not if, because the rules [of the EU] are bound to change." He believes one is inevitable because a new EU treaty will be needed to entrench eurozone reforms in the next few years, and the Coalition has already passed a law guaranteeing a referendum if there is a significant transfer of powers to Brussels.

Some 114 Tories rejected pressure from their whips by opposing the Coalition's legislative programme because it does not offer the public a vote on EU membership. They backed an amendment to the Queen's Speech regretting the absence of a Referendum Bill. Although the amendment was defeated by 277 votes to 130, it was the biggest backbench revolt on Europe since the 2010 election.

A ballot is being held this morning for Private Member's Bills, which party command will now seek to use as a vehicle legally to commit to a poll on Britain's relationship with Brussels.

The Eurosceptics were delighted by their show of strength. But Tory officials played down the revolt, insisting it was a free vote because the amendment was in line with party policy. But it was clear that Mr Cameron's decision to rush out a draft Referendum Bill on Tuesday had failed to quell the rebellion.

Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "This vote is a further devastating blow to the Prime Minister's authority. It demonstrates that David Cameron has managed to turn a Europe issue into a leadership issue. This is a Prime Minister who has lost control of the agenda and tonight lost control of his party."

John Baron, the Eurosceptic who tabled the rebel amendment, warned he was "not going to walk away" from the fight for a referendum, insisting MPs needed to pass legislation to "bridge trust" with the public. He said he had "deep reservations" about Mr Cameron's plan to support a backbench Bill guaranteeing a referendum by 2017, because such a measure could be blocked by "a determined minority".

Mr Clegg's decision to harden the Liberal Democrats' 2010 pledge for an in/out referendum when there is significant change in the UK-EU relationship, put pressure on Labour to follow suit. Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, gave Labour's strongest hint that it might support a public vote when he told the Commons: "If there was a treaty change which changed the balance of powers, we would support a referendum. I think it is really important that we understand and listen to people's concerns about Europe and show that we can reform."

Labour and the Liberal Democrats believe Mr Cameron is wrong to fix the 2017 timetable now. Both parties intend to campaign in favour of Britain's continued EU membership. But the statements show they are worried about Conservative claims that they want to deny the public a say on Europe.

Mr Clegg's remarks could remove an obstacle to a second Lib-Con coalition if the 2015 election results in another hung parliament.

Today Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, will warn the Conservatives that dancing to the UK Independence Party's tune after this month's local elections could cost investment and jobs.

He will say in a speech: "No serious friend of British business would be advocating the break-up of Britain's relations with the EU. We can't have hearts ruling heads. It is simply self-indulgent and reckless for parties or individuals to risk so much in order to address one concern raised in a council election by just 7 per cent of the electorate."

The Tories insist they are the only main party guaranteeing a referendum. Speaking in New York, Mr Cameron accused Ed Miliband and Mr Clegg of "sticking their heads in the sand" and "pretending nothing has changed" in the arguments over Britain's place within the EU.

He said: "Britain needs to be a part of forging that change, just as the eurozone countries come together and do more things together, so those countries outside the eurozone need to work out how they're going to make their relationship work with Europe."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
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
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect