A Commons vote on whether to stage a referendum on Britain's future in the European Union has been brought forward to Monday, it has emerged.
Amid the mounting prospect of a significant rebellion by eurosceptic Tory backbenchers, Downing Street requested the shift so William Hague could spearhead the Government fight.
The debate was scheduled for next Thursday, when both Mr Hague and Prime Minister David Cameron are due to be at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia.
Critics said the move was a bid by ministers to prevent the calls for a vote building up a head of steam - a suggestion dismissed by sources at Number 10.
News of the change came just hours after the premier warned his backbenchers against seeking a referendum "willy nilly" as he tackled the demands at Commons question time.
There may be "opportunities" for such a vote in the future if there were significant changes planned to the way the EU operated, he said.
"But the right answer is not to hold a referendum willy nilly in this parliament when we have got so much to do to get Europe to sort out its problems."
Reports suggest Tory backbenchers may be subjected to a three-line whip requiring them to follow the party line in voting against though some expect a non-binding whip to be imposed.
"As a general principle, the Prime Minister would expect MPs to support the Government's position on an issue," Downing Street said afterwards.
The vote was ordered by the Backbench Business Committee after receiving a petition with more than 100,000 signatures.