David Cameron faces a revolt by more than 100 Tory MPs this week amid renewed reports his backbench critics are coming closer to mounting a leadership challenge.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, leaked to The Mail on Sunday, the MPs demand that he toughens up his vow to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU if the Conservatives win the next Election.
They state he must hold a Commons vote on the issue before the Election in 2015 to prove he means it – and to expose Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, who have made clear they oppose it.
The latest EU referendum revolt comes after an opinion poll suggested Mr Cameron’s Eurosceptic rival Boris Johnson would wipe out Labour’s six-point lead if the London Mayor was Tory leader.
And well-placed sources say 25 of the 46 MPs needed to trigger a leadership contest have now written to Graham Brady, chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, asking for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister.
In the letter to Mr Cameron, written by Basildon MP John Baron but understood to bear the signatures of one in three Tory MPs, the rebels tell him to enshrine his referendum pledge in law now – or be accused of ‘broken promises’.
Mr Cameron had hoped to silence his Tory Eurosceptic critics in January by vowing to hold a referendum on UK membership of the EU if he wins the next Election.
However, Tory malcontents say he has not gone far enough and want ‘enabling legislation’ setting out a timetable and details of the referendum now, even if it takes place after the Election, arguing that otherwise voters will not trust him.
The rebels discount the likelihood of a Commons defeat by pro-EU Labour and Lib Dem MPs, on the grounds that voters, who according to polls favour a referendum, would turn against them.
The letter, due to be delivered to Mr Cameron on Tuesday, says: ‘There is a strong argument in favour of bringing forward the enabling legislation into this Parliament.
‘It would address the fundamental lack of public trust when people hear politicians making promises about Europe. Too many have been broken in the past.’
Sources said last night that the letter bears the signatures of more than 100 Tory backbenchers, including several ex-Ministers.
Moves to win support for the letter were conducted in cloak-and-dagger style – MPs who signed were not told who else had put their name to it. One said: ‘If the whips had found out, they would have scuppered the whole thing.’
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