A SENIOR Cabinet Minister yesterday warned Tory MPs that they would be expected to vote against a Commons motion calling for a referendum on Britain’s future in Europe.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said that staging a popular vote on Britain’s EU membership was contrary to Government policy and should not be supported by Tory MPs.
He said the Government would be imposing a three-line whip in today’s Commons debate on a backbench motion calling for a referendum ordering them to vote against or face the prospect of disciplinary action.
“Right now the immediate and urgent issue is sorting out the crisis in the eurozone. Investment, job prospects, economic growth in Britain are all threatened by the current crisis in the eurozone and this, frankly, right now is a distraction,” Mr Hammond told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“The three-line whip remains because the motion is contrary to Government policy. Governments impose a three-line whip to protect their policy when a motion is laid in the Commons which contradicts it.”
Mr Cameron was supported by former Tory leader and prominent Eurosceptic Lord Howard, who said a referendum now would be a “mistake”.
“It would be an enormous distraction from the urgent task of focusing all the efforts of Government on meeting the economic challenge, on growing economic recovery and creating jobs if the political class were to be diverted at this moment in time to arguing about whether we should have a referendum on our future in the European Union,” he told the Murnaghan programme.
However Tory MP George Eustice – Mr Cameron’s former press secretary who tabled one of the compromise amendments – warned the leadership not to try to “duck” the issue.
“The reason the Government has got a bit of a problem here with its backbenches is that there’s just an impression and a feeling, rightly or wrongly, that basically the Government just wants to put this in the deep freeze and not talk about the issue,” he told Sky.
David Cameron is facing potentially the most dangerous rebellion of his Premiership so far when MPs vote today.
Sixty Tory MPs have now signed a motion calling for a referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EU, leave or renegotiate its membership.