LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron suffered an embarrassing defeat in parliament Monday over how the referendum he has called on leaving the European Union will be conducted.
While the defeat in the House of Commons was on a technicality, it highlights the struggle Cameron faces to keep euroskeptic rebels in his own center-right Conservative party in line before the vote, due by the end of 2017.
It was Cameron’s first defeat in the Commons, where he has a majority of only 16 seats, since he won Britain’s general election in May.
The government had wanted to water down the usual rules on so-called “purdah,” under which ministers are banned from making any announcements which could affect the result of the vote for the last 28 days of a referendum or election campaign.
But the normal rules will now be applied after the government’s plans were defeated by 312 to 285 votes. Thirty-seven Conservatives rebelled against Cameron.
The prime minister wants Britain to remain part of the EU as long as he can secure reforms on issues such as making it harder for migrants from the bloc to access benefits and dropping the EU’s commitment to ever-closer union.
Suspicions are growing among some MPs who oppose the EU that he will be content to secure cosmetic changes to Britain’s relationship with Europe ahead of the vote, rather than the deep-seated changes they want.
Euroskeptics received another boost Sunday when, for the first time, an opinion poll suggested that more Britons want to leave the EU than want to stay.
Forty-three percent of respondents said they would vote to leave, 40 percent would vote to stay and 17 percent are undecided, according to the poll by Survation for the Mail on Sunday newspaper.