DAVID Cameron last night suffered a humiliating defeat in the House of Commons as the government lost a vote on EU budget negotiations.
Despite strenuous efforts to instil party discipline, 53 Conservative MPs led a Labour-backed rebellion to support an amendment demanding a real-terms cut in the EU’s spending between 2014 and 2020.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said he will allow the EU budget to increase in line with inflation – a rise of around two per cent.
But the rebel amendment passed by 307 votes to 294.
Although the result is not binding, it will undermine Cameron’s negotiating position when the EU’s 27 leaders meet to agree the budget in three weeks’ time.
It also raises the possibility of further defeats when the coalition attempts to gain parliamentary approval for the final EU budget.
Prominent Conservative rebel Douglas Carswell last night told City A.M. that the vote represented a watershed moment on Britain’s financial support for the EU.
“For the first time ever the House of Commons came together as a legislature and said enough is enough to the Whitehall elite,” he said.
“The government no longer commands a majority on its Europe policy.”
Downing Street acknowledged the result and said it would take note of the depth of feeling, though the government continues to insist that it will be near-impossible to negotiate a reduction in EU spending.
Earlier in the day Cameron had attempted to convince backbenchers that he was on their side.
“This government is taking the toughest line in these budget negotiations of any government since we joined the European Union,” he told MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions. “At best we would like it cut, at worst frozen, and I’m quite prepared to use the veto if we don’t get a deal that’s good for Britain.”
But during a fiery debate that preceeded the vote it became clear that this was not enough placate his Eurosceptic backbenchers.
Conservative MP Mark Pritchard asked: “Are we going to continue to ask families in this country to stop putting new shoes on their children’s feet in order to pay for the very large Mercedes fleet of Brussels?”
However Tony Baldry, a fellow Tory MP, warned: “If this party hopes to be in government after the next election, it has got to get a grip and start supporting the Prime Minister.”
In a speech at Chatham House today Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is expected call the Labour party “hypocritical” and “dishonest” for their last-minute decision to demand a reduction in the EU budget.
“In pushing a completely unrealistic position on the EU budget – one that is miles away from any other country’s position – Labour would have absolutely no hope of getting a budget deal agreed,” he will say.