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No 10 faces off with rebels over today’s EU vote

MPs are set to vote tonight on a referendum on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, in a non-binding vote that the Government will definitely win – but which has still exposed a deep fault line in the Conservative Party and angered many of its backbenchers.

The motion, which calls for MPs to vote on a referendum in which the public would vote on whether the UK should stay in the EU, leave it, or renegotiate our relationship, has proved very controversial, but with Labour and the Lib Dems likely to vote against the motion along with virtually the whole ‘payroll vote’ of Government ministers, it should fall.

Number 10 has put a three-line whip in place, forcing Tory MPs to vote with the Government, but scores of them have indicated that they will rebel – including some junior members of the Government who would have to resign their positions.

Prime Minister David Cameron opposes the public vote, as a commitment to the EU is part of the Coalition agreement, which agrees to “ensure that the British government is a positive participant in the European Union, playing a strong and positive role with our partners”.

Cameron wishes to focus instead on working to solve the Eurozone crisis, saying: “I don't think this is the right time to legislate for an in-out referendum.

“I think this is the right time to sort out Europe's problems, sort out the Eurozone problem, defend your national interest and look to the opportunities in the future to repatriate powers back to Britain.”

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary, said that while the EU was in the middle of a crisis, it was the wrong time to consider holding a referendum on membership.

He said: “Whatever level of enthusiasm you have or don’t have for the European Union it is the wrong motion, it is the wrong time, and it is the wrong subject. For us to be involved in this sort of navel-gazing at this moment on something that isn’t going to happen.”

But Labour leader Ed Miliband told the BBC's Politics Show: “It's no wonder that his backbenchers are disappointed, because he has been pretending for a long time that he is one of them.”

George Eustice, a Conservative MP, said: “The reason the Government has got a bit of a problem with its backbenchers is there is just an impression and a feeling, rightly or wrongly it is that the Government just wants to put this in the deep freeze and forget about the issue.”

The motion, put forward by Conservative MP David Nuttall, calls for a referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EU, modify its membership, or leave. The Commons debate was prompted by a petition signed by over 100,000 people.

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