A senior euroscpetic Tory MP has indicated he will rebel against David Cameron in a vote on whether to hold a referendum on staying in Europe.
MPs will debate and vote on a backbench measure next Monday, after an e-petition on Britain's future in Europe attracted more than 100,000 signatures. When it became clear that many Tories would vote in favour of an in-or-out referendum, the government brought the motion forward so that David Cameron and William Hague could take part in it. The two men were due to be out of the country on the original day of the debate.
The chairman of the backbench Tory 1922 Commitee, Mark Pritchard MP, BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Ultimately, this is about country first, party second and career last. Europe is not going to go away and the economics of Europe can no longer be disaggregated from domestic British politics; it is unsustainable.
"If you look at the wording of the motion, yes there's an option to leave the European Union, there's an option to stay within the European Union on its current terms, and also an option to renegotiate the relationship in order to create a new relationship based on trade and incorporation, and I think it is that that will attract widespread support, not only in the public, but across the political spectrum."
The motion stands little chance of being carried because Labour will be opposing it, in line with the official government position. But Monday will prove an signficiant barometer of both backbench Tory opinion on Europe, as well as David Cameron's ability to control the eurosceptic wing of the party.
On Thursday the government confirmed it would impose a "three-line whip" on the motion - Parliamentary language for officially ordering MPs to vote in a certain way. Labour then confirmed it would also whip its MPs into voting against a referendum on Europe.
Speaking in the Commons on Thursday lunchtime Mark Pritchard complained that backbench business was being subjected to whipping by the political parties, saying: "Is it any surprise that the public are frustrated that this place is more out of touch than ever?"
Tories on the right of their own party are already unhappy at what they see as Lib Dem policies having undue prominence in the coalition agenda. They were privately dismayed at the resignation of Liam Fox as defence secretary. Despite realising his resignation was inevitable as early as last Monday, some MPs were unhappy that Dr. Fox wasn't replaced by a Tory MP in cabinet with similar eurosceptic views.
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