Government divided over Europe vote
Published 25/10/2011 | 00:42
Divisions within the coalition Government over Europe have burst into the open as ministers absorb the impact of the largest backbench rebellion since David Cameron became Prime Minister.
Some 79 Tory MPs - along with two tellers - defied a three-line whip to vote for a referendum on Britain's EU membership on Monday night, in a rebellion which saw just half of Conservative backbenchers following Mr Cameron through the No lobby.
The Prime Minister insisted that there was "no bad blood, no rancour" over the revolt, but two Tory MPs were dumped as parliamentary aides after backing the referendum.
Labour said that Government "disunity" over Europe was undermining Britain's influence in discussions on the eurozone crisis, which continue on Wednesday with an emergency meeting of EU leaders in Brussels.
In the wake of the vote, comments from senior Cabinet ministers indicated starkly divergent attitudes from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat sides of the coalition on Britain's future relations with Europe.
Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove said that he wanted to see negotiations to win back powers from Brussels within the term of this Parliament.
"We are already winning powers back - we need to win more and that process will require careful negotiation," said Mr Gove. "What we are fortunate in having is a Conservative Party that is united as never before behind that renegotiation."
But Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg dismissed the row over the repatriation of powers as a "monumental distraction" and said there was no question of the Government mounting a "smash-and-grab raid" on Brussels.
Asked about calls for a referendum, Mr Clegg said: "I think it is a monumental distraction from what is, in effect, an economic firestorm on our doorstep to tie ourselves up in knots late at night in Westminster about a treaty or inter-governmental conference that might never happen."
Downing Street confirmed that Tory MPs Adam Holloway and Stewart Jackson had been removed from their unpaid posts as parliamentary private secretaries..But a spokeswoman insisted this did not amount to being sacked as they had been warned in advance that voting against the Government would automatically result in them losing their jobs.