LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron is bracing for a fresh Conservative rebellion over Europe this week as about 100 of his party’s lawmakers look set to defy him in a parliamentary vote.
Tory divisions over Britain’s membership of the European Union, never far below the surface, have burst into the open once again ahead of the expected vote on Wednesday.
Eurosceptic MP John Baron has introduced a nonbinding motion expressing “regret” that last week’s Queen’s Speech, which set out the government’s priorities for the year, did not include a promise to legislate for a referendum on EU membership.
Cameron has promised to hold an in-out referendum if his party wins a majority at the next general election in 2015. Currently the Tories share power with the smaller pro-EU Liberal Democrats.
The rise of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party, which came third in local elections this month, has prompted many Conservatives to press Cameron to enshrine his pledge in law.
Media reports suggest 100 lawmakers are likely to support Baron’s motion—a third of the parliamentary Tory party and an increase on the 81 Tory MPs who demanded a referendum in a 2011 vote.
Cameron’s office has said he is “relaxed” about next week’s vote, but it emerged this weekend that his ministers have been told to abstain.
It would be unprecedented for them to vote against their own government’s Queen’s Speech, but many Tories in the cabinet are sympathetic to the rebels’ cause.
Amid front-page newspaper headlines proclaiming “Tory civil war” and “Tories in Europe turmoil,” senior Conservative ministers took to the airwaves on Sunday to try to calm the storm.
“You can’t have a civil war when everyone is on the same side,” said Education Secretary Michael Gove.