EU referendum debate as-it-happened

'National referendum on the European Union' is debated by MPs
'National referendum on the European Union' is debated by MPs

Review our coverage of the EU referendum debate here, after dozens of Conservative rebels took on the government.

By Alex Stevenson

22:45 - Sounds as if the final Tory rebel figure could be 81. Still awaiting final confirmation. But we're going to wrap up now, for the simple reason that I am extremely keen to stop starting at this computer screen. It's been... quite a day. 

22:40 - It looks like the total number of Tory rebels was 80. That is absolutely huge, nearly half of the non-payroll Conservative party. It's a monstrous blow for the coalition, who are now tentatively pointing out that MPs probably felt less inclined to accept party authority because the motion was non-binding. That's true - but this is a huge blow to David Cameron's authority nonetheless.

22:20 - After a brief delay we get the result. It's 111 votes in favour of an EU referendum, and an enormous 483 who don't. Of those 111 rebels, 25 are thought to be Labour MPs, which leaves something like 86 Tory rebels. This is the biggest ever Conservative party rebellion on Europe. This is, in short, bad news for the prime minister. Here's our story on the bad news for David Cameron.

22:00 - I'm afraid we've had a few technical problems in the last hour of that debate, which ended with an uproarious summing-up from arch-eurosceptic Peter Bone to a packed Commons chamber. The entire Tory parliamentary party, it seems, squeezed into the chamber to hear him attack the whips but, improbably, praise David Cameron. Even if it was for encouraging MPs to be independent-minded. We'll have the initial result of the vote in a very short while.

21:00 - The best speech of the last 20 minutes has been that of Douglas Carswell, a right-wing firebrand who never holds back. Actually, on this occasion he appeared to go a bit off-topic, complaining about the thrill of being elected and the terrible contempt which voters now have for MPs. "Look at how today we are scorned," he lamented. This vote, in his view, was an opportunity for MPs to show voters that their lack of faith was ill-placed. As it is, of course, the implication is their disgust is very much justified. Carswell was followed by Labour MP Stephen McCabe, who has a fairly robust attitude to being whipped on a backbench business  debate. "I'm entitled to vote how I damn well like!" he roared.

20:40 - Glyn Davies, the Tory MP who is distinguished for ousting Lib Dem Lembit Opik from parliament, has just made a rather odd speech explaining why he's not going to be able to support the motion, sorry about that. He raised an incident when he had taken an egg in the back of the head on an anti-EU rally to demonstrate his eurosceptic credentials. He complained that the motion was "divisive of eurosceptic opinion". A case study in trying to dodge the issue, some might say: he may have needed more than the four minutes he got to truly make his position clear.

20:20 - And I'm back in good time, as Stewart Jackson - who resigned as a ministerial aide earlier today - stands up to make his speech. Here's what he has to say: "Loyalty runs through my veins to the Conservative party... it's more in sorrow and anger that I go today, because I support this government. I need no lectures on loyalty from some people. This is not the theological semi-religious schisms of the 1990s... there is a settled eurosceptic consensus in our party, but it's where and how we get to it."

20:15 - After a surreptitious foraging expedition for taxpayer-subsidised Parliamentary Curry, I am officially back. While I've been away, my colleague tells me, precisely "nothing" of any significance has taken place. Apart from John Redwood saying the British people deserve a vote, of course. There's about 90 minutes until voting time. And it looks as if they're going to pack a lot of MPs into that time, as each speaker is now only being permitted to speak for four measly minutes. As I write, lefty Kelvin Hopkins 

19:55 - The rebels, or "patriots" as one backbencher would rather we described them, are in a fully defiant mode. They're downplaying the extent to which whips are trying to win them over. MPs I've spoken to whose names are on the motion haven't had much contact with the government strongarms, it seems. They say they've made their positions very clear, thanks very much, but they won't be budging. I suspect this may partly be because the whips have simply given up on them: the number of rebels is so large that this whipping operation is having to target those to whom they pay particularly close attention.

19:35 - Martin Horwood, the Liberal Democrats' international affairs frontbench spokesperson, is doing his best to brush off all those criticisms we've seen in this debate from Tory MPs. They've attacked the Lib Dems repeatedly for not wanting a referendum on Europe, when in fact their position was exactly the same as the Tories' view - a referendum on the Lisbon treaty was a good idea, but now that it's passed the opportunity has, too. "This motion is the wrong motion at the wrong time, calling for a referendum that wouldn't work... I think we should throw it out tonight," he wraps up.

19:20 - Still keeping an ear on what's happening in the Commons chamber. Recent contributions to the debate include an especially bitter speech from Labour MP Kate Hoey, who's rebelling. She suggested the three party leaders had "colluded" over the debate. Then there was Bill Cash, the ultimate veteran eurosceptic, who had some advice for those of his would-be rebels who are being pestered by the whips. "Whips' hectoring is just something that you just have to get used to," he said, as if they are some kind of minor irritant you can probably buy repellent for. Then there was Jake Berry, a Tory backbencher who - shock horror - actually supports the government. He warned that a vote by the Commons calling into question the UK's membership might push the EU over the brink. In fact, he said such a vote would "fatally wound the eurozone economies". This debate is getting really serious, that's for sure.

19:00 - Earlier I spoke to John Baron, another Tory right-winger who's frustrated with the coalition. He was in a rush, as he wanted to get into the chamber, but had this to say when asked why a referendum was needed: "There is a general recognise that our relationship within the European Union has fundamentally changed since we first joined. Our sovereignty continues to be undermined in what is supposed to be a free trade area.

"The people have not yet been consulted... there are no treaties on the horizon, but meanwhile, the competencies and the powers continue to get transferred to Brussels. That's the core of the frustration."

18:40 - Matthew Ashton of Nottingham University, whose piece analysing the EU referendum (which won't happen) and the Scottish independence referendum (which will) has been on the front page of all day, tweets that he's watching the Commons debate. "Some of this stuff borders on pure conspiracy theory paranoia."

One voice of reason is that of Natascha Engel, the chair of the Commons' backbench business committee which selected David Nuttall's motion for debate. She's always been keen on making an impact with her committee and, after a year-and-a-half in the job, this is surely her greatest yet. She highlights the fact that this debate was utterly inconvenient for the government: and, in doing so, makes the case for an expanded role for backbench-controlled Commons business.

Malcolm Rifkind, who is speaking now, says a referendum now would be a "massive distraction". He gets shouted down by Tory rebels, but insists that "that's my view". He invokes the spirit of Aneurin Bevan's warning against the Labour party, which was about to adopt unilateral disarmament in 1957, before sitting down. Labour's Ian Davidson, who's next, sounds very much like he's planning to rebel, too.

18:20 - Thanks very much Ruth. I'm going to be taking this coverage through to the bitter end, but, now we're down to the backbenches, at a perhaps slightly less frantic pace. The last 20 minutes has seen St Albans Tory MP Anne Main lay into the Liberal Democrats, in a prolonged outburts of bitter hostility to her honourable friends. Labour MP John Cryer, who is actually one of the signatories of the motion and therefore one of the few rebels on the opposition benches, wraps up his speech by saying he suspects many Tory party members will praise those MPs who decide to rebel tonight.

He's then followed by a four-word speech from Tory MP Charles Walker. He simply asks the Commons: "If not now, when?"

By Ruth McKee

17:58 - DUP MP Nigel Dodds is talking for the second time. William McCrea appears to be leering rather alarmingly beside him. Interestingly, Mr Dodds is saying absolutely nothing - but taking quite a long time to say it. Aah - now making his point that DUP is united in wanting a referendum  - this is actually quite big news as DUP heartlands would be decimated if UK came out of Europe. Clearly DUP is only saying it because they no there will definitely not be a referendum any time soon.

17:51 Adam Holloway is actually getting quite a few laughs  - maybe because he keeps repeating that he's 'not just sucking up' every time he praises Conservative colleagues. Now, interestingly he's slagging off government putting him in a situation between supporting government and representing constituents - and will he resign his posiiton so he can vote with his conscience? Yes, it appears so. "I'm not now prepared to go back on my words to my constituents," he says. "I'm really staggered that loyal people like me are being put in this position." We think he's the first PPS to resign his job. David Cameron's first political resignation. Ouch!

17:45 - David Crausby speaking now - but he is completely upstaged by Caroline Lucas who is really leading the way in the fight back against boxy-jackets-in-a-primary-colour which used to be the de-rigeur dress code for women in parliament. But he is talking about importance of discrepencies of Conservative policy in Europe, he is now taking Margaret Thatcher's name in vain - accusing her of getting Britain too involved in Europe. The other side of the chamber will. Not. Be. Amused. 

17:41 - I'm finding Mr Pritchard's dapper dress sense rather distracting - his suit is actually more neat-fitting Labour front bench than the Conservative slouch-chic typically seen on the backbenches on that side of the chamber. But I'm sure he's saying very important things - oh yes - he is  - he's talking about fresh starts. And birthrights and destiny and history. I have my suspicions he's been watching too much Downton Abbey.  All very grandiose and inspiring. I would argue made more so by his fetching suit and tie combo.

17:35 - Mark Pritchard now delivers his argument - as to coin a 'Bercowism' -chuntering breaks out throughout the chamber. Rather fittingly Mr Pritchard is sporting a very fetching sky-blue tie, maybe to match his blue-sky thinking? He really likes saying 'in or out referendum', I think I counted six times so far. I hope no one's playing a drinking game to this - I'd say they'd have exceeded government guidelines on units-per-day about ten minutes ago.

17:29 - Douglas Alexander trying to point out  that Conservatives' credibilty is falling with British public and within Europe. Vince Cable is either having a delightful snooze - lounging on the front bench or he's closed his eyes, waiting for some inspiration. I can't blame him, Douglas Alexander does have a very soothing voice. If things don't work out on the opposition front bench he could make a fortune doing voiceovers.

17:27 - Alexander very keen to repeat the Labour of soundbite of 'reforming Europe not leaving Europe'.

17:23 - Douglas Alexander still talking - but his delivery  - depite a few jokes - seems a little flat and dispirited. He does inflict a real blow that the British prime minister has no real clout or influence in Europe. Draws attention to the 'unconvincing' stance of the prime minister, that will smart.

17:16 - Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, draws attention to absence of Cameron and Clegg. Alexander tries to bring back the debate to importance of European markets on British economy. Douglas Alexander very sombre and sober, doesn't seem to be enjoying himself as wildly as Hague. He is keen to stress any uncertainty would cripple Britain's economy. Labour getting a rougher ride from Tory backbenches than Hague did, pedictably.

17:13 - Very detailed working through of all government's objections to referendum and he seems very strong on 'people of UK do not want to say yes to everything or say no to everything in the EU'. Hague even unphased by Gisela Stewart (Labour) raising the awkward spectre of his objections to the Lisbon treaty - which as Hague points out jovially can be seen by anyone on Youtube.

17:07 - William Hague, oddly, seems to be enjoying himself considerably, seems stronger on this issue and more informed and less impatient than Cameron.

17:05 - Hague being very emphatic about how financially irresponsible a referndum would be, stressing that trade and confidence would be hit hard. Too much uncertainty would be bad for the market.

17:02 - Ian Paisley Jnr complaining about how much is spent on EU, but Hague, correctly, points out that Northern Ireland benefits disproportionately well from being part of Europe. Like Nigel Dodds, Ian Paisely Jnr represents constituents who benefit financially from Europe, both with CAP finance and peace and reconcilliation money.

16:59 - William Hague talks about a treaty change to advance own national interest. "Britain will no longer be responsible for bail outs so we've already saved tax payer billions of pounds". Proposing further treaty changes to protect rights of countries outside eurozone. Hague seems to be attempting to make it as clear as possible that powers will come back to Britain - but without promising anything. Very strange watching Hague defend the EU when his election campaign was so entirely focused on keeping the pound.

By Alex Stevenson

16:50 - I've just run upstairs from this afternoon's lobby briefing. No 10 are a little worried, that's for sure. "We always knew this wasn't going to be easy," a Downing Street source said. There's no absolute confirmation of the Mark Menzies incident, but "it was a very hot room" and someone did feel a bit faint. They're taking it quite seriously, rather than being flippant about it.  On the issues, the biggest ambiguity was about when exactly in the future the UK will attempt to improve the fundamentals of its relationship with Europe. A key date the prime minister's spokesperson has in mind is December, which will be the first opportunity to refresh the governance of the eurozone and that, within this, it may be possible to consider a treaty change. 

By Ruth Mckee

16:40 - Debate very lively - but Cameron no longer in chamber - didn't stay to hear Nuttall's speech. But Commons is quite full - though noticeably fuller on Conservative side. 

16:37 Dennis MacShane (Lab, Rotheride) is incensed by 'mocking' of EU working time directives which he says save lives. He speaks passionately and angrily. Very unfortunate inability of David Nuttall to pronounce Europe properly. I hope those meanies on the Conservative backbenches haven't put this up to him to have a giggle at his expense.

16:31 - John Bercow calls David Nuttall who calls debate "historic" and thanks members for Basildon and Billercay, and says debate reflects views of hundreds of thousands of people who signed petitions. He says there is a growing sense that parliament is becoming impotent. (unfortunately if any of the philandering politiicans' love lives is to go by  - this parliament is anything but impotant - sigh).

16:26 - Ooh - Cameron just definied himself as a 'Liberal Conservative' - he's out and proud about it. In response to a question from the almost-celeb jewel in the Conservatives' crown - Rory Stewart. Little dig about 'leaving off working for John Major from CV" - well, considering Cameron is very Linkdin at the minute - CV tips are top of his mind.

16:24 Naomi Long - East Belfast MP - asks about establishing rule of law in Libya - good opportunity to get voice heard. Northern Irish MPs quite keen to get their voices heard today - suspicions remain sometimes they jsut ask questions to stop Cameron forgetting they're here.

16:23 Robert Halfon MP raises a huge cheer for asking a question about what he's supposed to tell his constituents. A lot of loyalty being shown to PM in spite of potential rebellion.

16:17 - PM turned completely round to his backbenches, more fist-thumping but clearly trying to solicit backbenches. Sarah Newton, Conservative, asks a constituency-pleasing question about bureaucracy - Cameron trying very hard to list all things government has done to get out of Europe.

All-in-all, Tory benches are exceptionally animated this afternoon. They might all vote with government but they seem very keen to get their faces seen asking about EU bureaucracy. Michael Gove looks to be engrossed in a book - not sure that it's anything to do with the debate - sort of worryingly looks like a manual, something along the lines of 'how to build a free school for free'.

16:15 Now Cameron thumping desk in time with his delivery - that's never a good sign. Nor is Oliver Letwin nodding sagely in agreement. Hopefully the principle of a paper shredder has been explained to that particular MP by now.

16:13 Oh dear  - Cameron just gave a hugely dismissive answer on the issue of childcare - to a female MP. His flippant tone does not help his 'calm down dear' patronising image. Must trry harder.

16:09 - Bernard Jenkin MP (one of the rebel MPs) asks if the PM is worried that the general public will be angry there is no referenda - even when they've been promised. Again, Cameron repeats himself that it would be better to negotiate for Britain further down the line - but is starting to sound tired  - can't help but wonder if he can make it through the debate to the vote at 10 o'clock tonight. 

16:06 - Cameron gives a very convincing reply to Kate Hoey questioning why there is a three line whip on a non-binding vote. He is adamant that the public has the right to have public petitions but claims that Europe is "too important" for a debate in parliament on a Thursday. Cameron sounding tired and hoarse, and increasingly exasperated. 

16:03 - Gerald Kaufman says he is disgusted with how Gaddafi was killed but Cameron maintains he is glad the ex-Libyan leader is dead as peace in Libya would've been impossible otherwise.

16:02 - Aah - the spectre of the Iron Lady raises her head as we knew it would in any EU debate

16:00 - Charlie Elphicke panders to a little light xenophobia by praising Cameron for 'standing up to France' - gets lots of easy cheers from backbenchers for that.

15:58 - Nigel Dodds being exceptionally falttering to Cameron on Libya and calls for a referendum. Considering how well many of Dodds' constituents do out of european agriculture subsidies - it's unclear why he is so anti-Europe.

15:55 - Keith Vaz raising the other middle eastern countries with dictatorships like Yemen. Cameron saying he's committed to tackling those things. PM also uses opportunity to stress that staying in Europe means a shift towards de-regualtion od business to encourage growth. 

By Alex Stevenson

15:48 - Miliband really lays into Cameron, saying all the problems the PM faces are of his own making. He attacks an "out-of-touch Tory party" which is suffering a "nervous breakdown" and mocks Cameron for being criticised by Nicolas Sarkozy. Cameron is very cool in response, equally mocking as he brings up Labour's approach.

15:45 - After a closing appeal to those, like Jason McCartney, who are backing the motion but don't necessarily support an exit from Europe, Cameron wraps up. Next is Ed Miliband, who gives Labour's take. The opposition will vote with the government later on - and they're all doing so against public opinion, which would rather have a referendum. "The best answer to the concerns of the British people about the European Union is to reform the way it works, not to leave it," he says.

15:40 - Cameron has jumped ahead to this evening's debate, making the case against a referendum. "When your neighbour's house is on fire, your first impulse should be put out the flames, not least to stop the flames reaching your own house," he says. "This is not the time to argue about walking away, not just for their sakes, but for ours."

15:35 - David Cameron is now standing up in the Commons. After talking briefly about Libya, he moves on to yesterday's EU leaders' summit amid the eurozone crisis. As our news story showed, it didn't go entirely smoothly.

Meanwhile, a rumour is spreading across Westminster that one of the wavering Tory ministerial aides who were summoned to No 10 for a talking-to earlier was taken ill during the Downing Street session. I haven't seen this confirmed anywhere yet, however, so for now this is just in the 'rumour' category.

15:25 - I've just been speaking to Jason McCartney, the Colne Valley Tory MP, who's signed the motion and is one of the rebels. He has an interesting take on the motion, which he's supporting because he wants to see a referendum.

"It really is quite soul-destroying, the cynicism and the suspicion that people hold in politicians at the moment," he says. "One of the ways we can restore that trust is to follow through with things, and keep promises... I haven't even have said how I would vote [in a referendum] - I just want the referendum and the debate, that's what democracy is all about. I'm not seeing it as a way of getting out of Europe, I'm seeing it as a way to engage with people."

15:20 - Bill Cash, the most eurosceptic Tory of them all, is explaining on BBC News 24 that "the true Conservative position" is a fervent desire for a referendum on Europe. "What we need is to reorganise our relationship with Europe. This is a fundamental relationship change we're looking for," he says.

15:15 - The whips will be hoping to draw the sting on the issue by encouraging as many as possible to back an amendment tabled by George Eustice, Cameron's former press secretary. This proposes calling on ministers to list the powers they would seek to "repatriate" from the EU. It also asks them "to commence a renegotiation of the UK's relationship with the EU and to put the outcome of those negotiations to a national referendum". Not quite as watered down as all that, really, but it would still be a win for No 10.

15:10 - So how do we measure a bad result for Cameron? Well, the first benchmark has to be 41. That's the record of the largest number of Tory MPs who have rebelled against the government since the general election, so those clever chaps from Nottingham University tell us. Anything over that would be significant. Over 50 would be really significant. And as for anything over 60 - well, that would be simply enormous, wouldnit it?

15:05 - First thing's first - the basics. Here's the situation, in as simple terms as I can make them (alternatively you could have a read of our news story previewing the debate).

1. Conservative party ministers, in coalition with the pro-EU Liberal Democrats and forced to deal pragmatically with the eurozone crisis, are keen to avoid confrontation with the continent until the 2015 general election.

2. The bulk of Conservative MPs are broadly eurosceptic, in line with the bulk of Conservative party members. Those who feel strongest about the issue are on the right-wing of the party and have clashed with Cameron's moderate administration on a number of issues.
3. An e-petition calling for a referendum on Europe was adopted as the basis of a debate by the backbench business committee, which decides what's debate for about one day a week of Commons time.
4. The actual motion to be debated is this: "That this House calls upon the Government to introduce a Bill in the next session of Parliament to provide for the holding of a national referendum on whether the United Kingdom should (a) remain a member of the European Union on the current terms; (b) leave the European Union; or (c) re-negotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation"
5. Over 60 Tory MPs have said "I'll sign up to that!", by literally signing up to it. In doing so they're defying David Cameron and the government, who have made clear they don't want to see a referendum. It's fight time...

One useful test of the scale of this rebellion will be how far it exceeds the coalition's record, 41. Over 60 Tories have signed the motion, which suggests that it will by far the largest. But we should avoid getting too excited. 

15:00 - Well, good afternoon, politics fans, and welcome to our coverage of this pm's backbench business debate on the 'national referendum on the European Union'. That's what it's down as on the Commons order paper, anyway. In fact this is about much more than just that - it's about Conservative party discipline, David Cameron's ongoing struggle with the discontented Tory right and, fundamentally, Britain's future in Europe. Labour MPs are set to back the government in opposing the eurosceptic motion in force; still, this is about as exciting as it gets when there isn't any realistic prospect of the government being defeated. And that's sayin' somethin'!


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