UK Prime Minister David Cameron has suffered a humiliating defeat after senior members of his own party voted against his plans to restrict campaigning in the month before his promised historic In/Out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
It is Cameron’s first defeat since winning the general election in May 2015 with a majority of just 12. In the referendum vote, Cameron lost the vote after 37 of his own party – including Euroskeptics like veteran Bill Cash and Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, joined opposition members in voting down his reforms.
Purdah now fully restored to EU REFERENDUM BILL. This is a victory for a fair referendum.— Bernard Jenkin (@bernardjenkin) September 7, 2015
Cameron has not yet set a date for the In/Out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU and has until the end of 2017 to call it, but many believe it will take place in 2016. However, Euroskeptics had said the reforms Cameron was trying to bring in would allow for him to call a snap referendum when it suited him and would favor his campaign to remain within the EU.
His reforms would have watered down the rules that say that ministers and officials must stay neutral during the weeks before the historic vote is due to take place – the so-called 'purdah' rules. He was defeated by 312 to 285, a majority of 27. The government was also forced to concede that ministers will now have to submit to MPs the subject areas they wish to discuss during the campaign, with lawmakers given the power of veto.
— Ben Riley-Smith (@benrileysmith) September 2, 2015
David Cameron giggles nervously at questioning by Sir Edward Leigh. That majority is starting to look wafer thin.— Kirsty S (@Mrsjackdaniels) September 7, 2015
During the debate, Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh said:
"With respect, I think that this is legalistic claptrap. Why can we not just cut to the chase and accept amendment 4, which was tabled by the Opposition, under which we would have full purdah and do what we do in general elections, so that everybody thinks it is fair?"
"Europe a la Carte"
The In/Out referendum was forced on Cameron amid a huge rise in anti-Europe sentiment in the country as a whole and within his own party, in particular.
The question of UK membership of the EU has always caused a rift within the Conservatives and Cameron has had to contend with a rise in popularity of the anti-Europe UK Independence Party.
Many in Britain are angered by the powers given to Brussels by Westminster, as well as the bureaucracy imposed by its institutions. Having pledged to call a referendum, Cameron is desperately trying to convince other European leaders to reform the way the EU is run and to re-negotiate Britain’s terms of membership in an attempt to assuage his critics.
Cameron’s election manifesto promised:
"More powers back to Britain; a better deal for British taxpayers; continued control of our borders and a crackdown on benefit tourism; more control of justice and home affairs; [and] more trade and continued economic independence – by saying no to the Euro and ever closer union."
However, he has been met with resistance in Europe with Emmanuel Macron, the French economy minister, among many other saying Cameron cannot cherry-pick its membership of the union and be part of "Europe a la carte". Macron said in June:
"I don’t understand how it is possible to say, ‘we the UK have all the positive aspects of Europe but don’t want to share any of the risk with any member states’. It just doesn’t fly. It’s a common responsibility."