David Cameron is facing the biggest rebellion of his premiership, with dozens of his own MPs set to back calls for a referendum on UK membership of the EU.
The Labour opposition, like the government, wants members to oppose the motion. The prime minister made a last plea before tonight’s vote.
“It is not the right time, at this moment of economic crisis, to launch legislation that includes an ‘in-out’ referendum,” he told parliament. “When your neighbour’s house is on fire, your first impulse should be to help them to put out the flames, not least to stop the flames reaching your own house. This is not the time.”
But a petition signed by more than 100,000 people has been handed into Downing Street, calling for a public vote. And rebel Tory MPs are convinced they are doing the right thing for Britain.
“I will be voting for the motion,” said Conservative Member of Parliament, Bernard Jenkin. “The motion is very straightforward. It sets out the choice facing the country which is: do we stay in the EU? do we get out of the EU? or do we seek a different relationship with our EU partners? And I can’t, for the life of me, understand why the government is not supporting that principle.”
Although the vote in parliament looks set to fail and carries no legal weight, it has rattled Cameron’s authority. It has also reignited the debate among Conservatives and the broader British public over the country’s European future.