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Is a Commons defeat on Europe really on the cards for David Cameron?

By Jonathan Isaby

Picture 9Today's Sunday Telegraph splashed on Melissa Kite's story suggesting that David Cameron "faces the prospect of an embarrassing defeat on Europe" when a Committee of the Whole House debates amendments to the European Union Bill on Tuesday 11th January.

The Bill introduces the "referendum lock" on the future transfer of powers to Brussels and - as Martin Howe noted this morning here on ConHome - seeks to make it explicitly clear that laws emanating from the EU have effect within the UK only for so long as that remains the will of Parliament.

However, the Telegraph reports that Bill Cash has tabled amendments to the Bill to further strengthen it by "reaffirming the supremacy of the UK Parliament" over British law.

But how real is the prospect of the Government being defeated on a European matter? The Coalition has a working Commons majority of 84, meaning that on a full turnout of MPs, at least 43 Government backbenchers would need to vote against a measure to raise the possibility of defeat.

Liberal Democrat MPs cannot be expected to do anything but back the Government in the face of a eurosceptic rebellion on European matters. The Telegraph suggests that Labour are open to backing Tory eurosceptic rebels on this matter, although it is surely unlikely that Labour would repeat its feat from the tuition fees vote and deliver a 100% turnout of its MPs. Then there are the assorted nationalists and Unionists to factor into the equation.

Thus far there have been three noteworthy Tory rebellions on European issues since the general election**:

  1. July 14th - 6 Conservative MPs opposed a motion supporting the establishment of the EU External Action Service, with one (Justin Tomlinson) registering a positive abstention by voting in both lobbies.
  2. October 13th - 37 Conservative MPs voted for an amendment to a motion tabled by Douglas Carswell demanding a reduction in the EU Budget contribution - although a further 12 had signed the amendment but did not in the event vote for it.
  3. November 11th - 25 Conservative MPs opposed a motion noting European Union documents relating to the co-ordination of economic policy in the EU.

** A fourth division relating to matters European - namely a motion tabled on December 14th supporting the Government's approach of working closely with the European Commission to deliver a strong, principles-based framework for financial sector corporate governance - saw just one Tory MP, Philip Hollobone, registering a vote against.

So who were they? (2010 intake are marked with an asterisk*)

A hard core of 5 rebelled on all three of those divisions:

  1. Peter Bone
  2. Douglas Carswell
  3. Philip Hollobone
  4. Andrew Percy*
  5. Mark Reckless*

A further 13 rebelled on two of the three divisions:

  1. Steve Baker*
  2. Brian Binley
  3. Chris Chope
  4. James Clappison
  5. Philip Davies
  6. David Davis
  7. Gordon Henderson*
  8. Julian Lewis
  9. Jason McCartney*
  10. David Nuttall*
  11. John Redwood
  12. Andrew Turner
  13. Martin Vickers*

And 27 rebelled in one of those three divisions:

  1. John Baron
  2. Guto Bebb*
  3. Andrew Bingham*
  4. Bob Blackman*
  5. Andrew Bridgen*
  6. Bill Cash
  7. Geoffrey Cox
  8. Nick de Bois*
  9. Caroline Dinenage*
  10. Richard Drax*
  11. George Eustice*
  12. Zac Goldsmith*
  13. James Gray
  14. Robert Halfon*
  15. Chris Heaton-Harris*
  16. Pauline Latham*
  17. Anne Main
  18. Karl McCartney*
  19. Stephen Mosley*
  20. Dominic Raab*
  21. Simon Reevell*
  22. Richard Shepherd
  23. Bob Stewart*
  24. Andrew Stephenson*
  25. Graham Stuart
  26. Sir Peter Tapsell
  27. Charles Walker

That is a total of 45 Conservative MPs who have voted against the Government in relation to Europe.

It would require pretty much all of them to vote against a three line whip again on January 11th to ensure the defeat about which the Telegraph speculates - and my personal hunch is that this is unlikely. That said, there is over a week to go before the vote and both the rebels' and whips' intelligence-gathering operations will be hindered by the fact that MPs do not return to Westminster until the day before the vote.

Moreover, when the European Union Bill had its Second Reading in the Commons on 7th December, no Conservative MP backed Labour's reasoned amendment to oppose giving the Bill a Second Reading on the grounds that it was "a flawed measure which would confuse the important issues at stake and make vital constitutional issues justiciable by the courts rather than resolved under the sovereignty of Parliament".

Only 14 of those named above - Baker, Bingham, Binley, Carswell, Cash, Chope, Davis, Drax, Goldsmith, Mosley, Reckless, Shepherd, Tapsell, Turner - were among those who did not participate in that division and they would be among the prime suspects for converting their abstention into a vote for a backbench rebel amendment.

In addition to all the names above, others who would most likely appear on any whips' watch list of possible Euro rebels would be Bernard Jenkin, Jacob Rees-Mogg and John Whittingdale, along with those who signed - but did not vote for - the Carswell amendment on the EU Budget contribution, namely: David Davies, Jackie Doyle-Price, Chris Kelly, Kwasi Kwarteng, Andrea Leadsom, Stephen McPartland, Patrick Mercer, Priti Patel and Andrew Rosindell.


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