The EU Referendum Motion – was the Vote Really Being Held on Europe at All?

Monday’s debate was highly anticipated but why? Even true optimists could not rally their beliefs that the motion could actually be passed with three line whips in place from all the three main parties. It could be said then that the debate then was not really about Europe at all, but was actually a debate to answer two questions: the strength of Mr Cameron’s leadership and the power of a three line whip. Different commentators will give you a diverse range of opinions on this topic and I am sure we have heard many over the last few days but the question in my mind that needs answering is: was it really worth Cameron enforcing a three line whip at all?

This vote was said to be the biggest test of his leadership so far and the result was 81 Tory MPs rebelling, 2 of them losing their positions due to this. Stewart Jackson a Private Parliamentary Secretary stepped down from his position so he could vote with the motion, claiming that “some things are more important than party preferment”. It has also been shown that out of those 81 rebels, 50 were from the Class of 2010 which was a surprise to many as new MPs are often more willing to toe the party line and bow down to the coercion of the whip.

The flag of the European Union

Wasn't the European Union meant to be unifying?

Gove was quoted as saying that the end result “was not a humiliation” but the fact that this even needed stating to the public reflects the intensity of the debate, the vote and the consequences within the party. It was the largest rebellion a Prime Minister has ever faced over Europe, including the rebellion of 41 MPs against John Major over the Maastricht Treaty. Many Conservatives are traditionally Eurosceptic and the sensitivity of the topic within the Coalition was shown in the meagre discussion of it within the Coalition agreement. It only stated that there would be no attempt to join the Euro, no further transfer of powers to Brussels and that the UK would still remain an “active participant” within the European Union.

The Eurosceptic nature of many strong Conservative constituencies is the reason why so many MPs rebelled; they feared repercussions from the electorate in 2015 if they did not. However, knowing this, why was the three line whip imposed? Yes the motion was against Coalition policy but MPs were put in the position of listening to their party (and ignoring their electorate who they are supposed to represent) or listening to their electorate (and facing the prospect of being removed from any parliamentary position or face obstacles in the way of future promotion). When putting his MPs in this position, Mr Cameron was always going to be in a lose-lose situation; at least if there had been a free vote allowed, he may have had a slightly larger rebellion but he would have been portrayed as still supporting the Conservative’s core ideology of re-negotiating the EU terms and retrieving some Parliamentary Sovereignty. It must also be noted that the result of this debate was not even binding on the government, meaning that a slightly higher rebellion which still does not gain a majority is still no huge bother to the Coalition.

A new e-petition started two days ago requesting the House of Commons to “reconsider its decision” and “grant us an opportunity through a referendum to express our desire on the relationship with the EU”. Perhaps if this request reaches the designated number of signatures (it is currently on nearly 8,500) then the second vote will be a free vote (although this may be optimism of the worst kind).

It seems clear though, that Mr Cameron has made many party members wary with this new disagreement and many now fear that his strongly advocated belief in regaining power and jurisdiction from Brussels is a mere pipe dream. The Conservatives can blame not being able to hold a referendum on having to form a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats and compromises having to be made but many will now fret that this could damage our Prime Minister’s chance of gaining an outright majority in 2015. We will have to wait and see whether a hung Parliament become a norm over the next few parliamentary terms?


Posted on October 27, 2011, in Coalition Government, Comment, Conservative Party, Party Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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  1. Pingback: Whose side is David Cameron on anyway? Ours or Johnny Foreigner’s? « Politics Matters

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