Despite three line whips unusually being imposed by all three main parties against the motion, around 70 Conservative MPs – and even some Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs – could vote in favour of the controversial move.
“I don’t think this is the right time to legislate for an in-out referendum,” Prime Minister David Cameron argued yesterday, speaking from Brussels. “This is time to sort out the Eurozone.”
Yet arch-eurosceptic John Redwood said the timing was due to Cameron’s own “very good idea” of setting up a petitions website for the public.
“That’s why it’s happening now,” Redwood said. “Over 100,000 names are on the petition, with more signing other petitions.
“We can see the intention of Eurozone governments to take their relationship forward,” Redwood told City A.M. “And so the UK’s own relationship with the EU needs to be on the agenda.”
However, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said Cameron would stick to his decision to impose the toughest voting orders on Conservative MPs.
“It is not government policy to have an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union,” Hammond said. “The three-line whip remains because the motion is contrary to government policy.”
MPs who defy a three line whip can be expelled from the party. Yet the Conservatives are unlikely to be able to punish a widespread rebellion.