Prime Minister David Cameron stands to be dealt a bruising defeat today if a cross-party coalition of Labour, the SNP and Conservative rebels vote down the government’s proposed changes to the EU referendum bill.
Last week, Downing Street indicated that Cameron would U-turn on his initial refusal to impose a period of “purdah” ahead of an in/out vote.
The Prime Minister had come under increased pressure since June, when more than two dozen eurosceptic Tory backbenchers rebelled by voting against an early draft of the EU referendum bill.
But last night, eurosceptics said that Cameron’s latest proposals – which would limit the government from involvement in matters that “directly address the question of whether we should remain in the EU” in the run-up to a referendum – did not go far enough to ensure a fair vote.
Steve Baker, co-chair of the Conservatives for Britain group of eurosceptic MPs, told City A.M. the “fundamental problem” was that the government’s amendment “gives the government considerable discretion over purdah”.
Baker said that he expected today to be marked by “drama and fluidity” as he and other eurosceptics worked to build cross-party support. He added: “Our objective is not to threaten the government. Our objective is to get the legislation into the right shape.”
A Labour source told City A.M. that senior party members also had “concerns” over the government’s “narrow definition of purdah”.
“It’s now looking very likely that we’ll have to vote against [the amendment],” they said.
The SNP has also said that they will vote against the government’s proposals.