Tory ‘own goal’ as MPs trade blows

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A SERIES of Yorkshire MPs yesterday lined up to defy David Cameron and call for a referendum on the European Union.

The Prime Minister was warned not to ignore his backbenchers after the vote as eurosceptic Tory MPs voiced their frustration at the lack of progress in pulling back powers from Brussels.

The Tory leadership was also criticised for its handling of the vote after MPs were ordered to vote against the referendum rather than being allowed a free vote.

The debate came after more than 100,000 people signed an e-petition calling for a referendum on UK membership of the EU.

Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy was among 78 MPs – many of them Tories – who backed the motion which called for a referendum asking the public whether they wanted to remain in the EU, pull out, or re-negotiate membership terms.

Former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, Shipley’s Philip Davies, Colne Valley’s Jason McCartney, Calder Valley’s Craig Whittaker and Cleethorpes’ Martin Vickers also signed the motion, while Dewsbury’s Simon Reevell said he backed the referendum.

Mr Percy warned Mr Cameron against ignoring his own backbench to satisfy pro-European Liberal Democrats. He said: “He needs to take back from this that we form a majority of the Government’s backbenchers. We can’t have the tail wagging the dog and it’s not enough just to say we’ll have no more integration.”

He also criticised the decision to impose a three-line whip on the vote, which led to reports of MPs being pressured and cajoled into backing the Government and voting against the motion.

“What they’ve done by whipping this is they’ve turned this into a Tory civil war story, instead of it being MPs expressing their view on a referendum,” he said.

The Government has already introduced measures that will require a referendum before any more powers are transferred, but Ministers have argued that now is not the right time to hold a vote about whether to stay in or pull out of the EU given the economic crisis engulfing the eurozone.

With politicians still struggling to find a solution to the crisis which has engulfed Greece and threatens to spread to Italy, German government sources said yesterday that the eurozone bailout fund will see its firepower increased to more than 1 trillion euros (£869bn) to enable it to contain the debt turmoil.

In a plea to wavering MPs Mr Cameron, who was present after cancelling a foreign trip, insisted he remained “firmly committed” to “bringing back more powers” from Brussels but said the national interest was to be part of the EU. “The time for reform is coming,” he said after personally meeting a string of would-be rebels.

Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith, an aide to International Development Minister Alan Duncan, voted with the Government. He called for powers to be returned and said red tape was “stifling” business, but said the priority should be the euro crisis.

“It will require a new structure in Europe and new agreements between nations. When that new structure is discussed, we must seize the opportunity to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with Brussels. We will then have something to take to the country in a poll. But with the current crisis looming, uncertainty over a UK referendum would damage our economy further and that’s not a price worth paying as working families across our region grapple with some of the toughest economic conditions in our history.”

Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart said: “The motion is poorly drafted and a distraction from the serious economic issues currently engulfing Europe and threatening the UK.”

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