David Cameron has suffered a humiliating defeat over the EU referendum as Tory rebels and Labour put aside their differences to oppose changes to the rules that restrict government campaigning before an election. The government lost by 27 votes as a group of Tory backbenchers argued that Downing Street was trying to unduly influence the result in favour of staying in the EU. The rebels, led by Eurosceptics including Bernard Jenkin, Bill Cash and Steve Baker, said it was wrong of the government to seek changes to purdah, which is the month-long period before a poll when government announcements and spending are restricted.
It is Cameron’s first defeat in parliament since winning a slim majority of 12 in May. There were 37 Conservatives who voted against their own party, indicating a large degree of unhappiness among Eurosceptics about the government’s handling of the process.
The willingness of Labour to cooperate with Tory Eurosceptics also raises the prospect of rebellions in the future, with more battles expected over the plans for an EU referendum before the end of 2017.
The row initially broke out in June when it became clear the government wanted to suspend the rules of purdah entirely. Following an outcry among Eurosceptics, Downing Street hoped to win over Tory rebels by watering down its original proposals.