Tory discipline breaks down as PPS vows to back EU rebels
Gove's PPS says he'll vote for rebel amendment while David Davis throws champagne party for Mad Nad
GAVIN BARWELL, a junior member of David Cameron's government who serves as Michael Gove's Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS), has announced today that he will defy the government whip to vote for the rebel Tory amendment to the Queen's Speech calling for legislation to guarantee a referendum on the EU.
Schools Secretary Gove and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond became the most senior ministers to join the chorus of Tory grandees saying they would vote in favour of Britain's exit from Europe if they had a vote now. But they both said they would obey David Cameron's order requiring his ministers to abstain in this week's rebel vote.
This morning however, Barwell (above), a former press officer for the Tories before he became Gove's bag carrier, said on Radio 4's Today programme that he – Barwell - will vote for the rebel amendment.
It calls for an EU referendum "mandate" bill to be introduced to guarantee an in-out vote in the next Parliament, after renegotiations on Britain's relationship with the EU, as Cameron promised in his EU speech in January.
Barwell said: "I completely trust the Prime Minister. The issue is the electorate doesn't have a great deal of trust in politicians in general. Many people feel they have been promised referendums in the past and they haven't happened. It's not an issue about Conservative MPs trusting David Cameron. It's about convincing the electorate that the clear commitment he gave in January is going to happen."
Having Gove's PPS joining the rebellion may be no big deal in itself. But the momentum being gained by the rebels shows that Cameron is out of step with his own party. It also shows that discipline in the Tory party has been shot. As a PPS, Barwell would normally have to resign for voting against the government whip, but it's likely there will be too many other PPS's in the same boat for any action to be taken against them.
There are already 50 Tory names attached to the amendment tabled by John Baron and Peter Bone plus three Labour MPs (John Cryer, Kate Hoey and Kelvin Hopkins) and more are likely to be joining in the next 48 hours.
The row threatens to overshadow Cameron's three-day trip to Washington - where he arrived, bizarrely, on a Greek charter jet bleary eyed at 4.30 am UK time today - for talks with US President Barack Obama.
Cameron's aides told correspondents on the flight over that he's going to be negotiating a trade deal on behalf of the EU (as well as talking about peace in Syria) to show his own party that there is some point in remaining inside the EU, which is his current policy position.
None of that will conceal the fact that, while he's getting the red-carpet treatment at the White House, his party is in turmoil at home.
David Davis, another who has signed the rebel motion, is throwing a champagne bash for Nadine Dorries in his room at the Commons this afternoon to celebrate her return to the Tory fold and to welcome her back to the ranks of the rebels.
It is an ostentatious two-fingers gesture to the government whips.
Cameron could not have put the EU referendum in the Queen's Speech because he would never have got it past the Lib Dems in the coalition. Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, said he had found out that Cameron never bothered even to ask Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, no doubt because he knew the answer he would get.
Former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, also on the Today programme, accused the rebels of helping Labour win the next election by splitting the Tory party. "They are putting the Prime Minister in an impossible situation – he cannot simply vote for this amendment because it would split the coalition right down the middle."
But now that he has got modernisers such as Gove – a close political ally – saying he would vote for Britain to come out of the EU, it leaves the public wondering why Cameron cannot allow his ministers to vote for the guarantee to the referendum he has promised.