MPs vote against EU referendum

EU motion is defeated but 111 MPs, including 79 Tories, join the rebellion.

MPs have just voted against the EU referendum motion by 483 to 111 - a majority of 372.

79 Tory MPs (not including the two tellers) defied a three-line whip and voted in favour of the motion, while two abstained, making this the largest ever Conservative rebellion on Europe (the previous record was 41) and the largest Tory rebellion so far this parliament (the previous record was also 41). Indeed, this nearly the largest ever rebellion by any political party on Europe. The previous record, as Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart of Revolts note, is held by Labour, 80 of whose MPs voted against a programme motion for the European Assembly Elections Bill in January 1978.

Tomorrow's headlines will be dreadful for David Cameron but, in my view, he was right to whip MPs against the motion. Britain might be the most eurosceptic country in the EU but the public care less about the subject than some imagine. Polling by Ipsos-MORI shows that just 3 per cent of voters regard Europe as one of the most "important issues" facing the UK. As the economy continues to struggle, Tory MPs obsessed with Europe risk appearing eccentric to the electorate.

I'll post a full list of the rebel MPs as soon as one is available.

12am Update: Unusually, the list still hasn't appeared. We'll post it on The Staggers tomorrow morning.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Emily Thornberry heckled by Labour MPs as tensions over Trident erupt

Shadow defence secretary's performance at PLP meeting described as "risible" and "cringeworthy". 

"There's no point trying to shout me down" shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry declared midway through tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. Even by recent standards, the 70-minute gathering was remarkably fractious (with PLP chair John Cryer at one point threatening to halt it). Addressing MPs and peers for the first time since replacing Maria Eagle, Thornberry's performance did nothing to reassure Trident supporters. 

The Islington South MP, who voted against renewal in 2007, said that the defence review would be "wide-ranging" and did not take a position on the nuclear question (though she emphasised it was right to "question" renewal). She vowed to listen to colleagues as well as taking "expert advice" and promised to soon visit the Barrow construction site. But MPs' anger was remorseless. Former shadow defence minister Kevan Jones was one of the first to emerge from Committee Room 14. "Waffly and incoherent, cringeworthy" was his verdict. Another Labour MP told me: "Risible. Appalling. She compared Trident to patrolling the skies with spitfires ... It was embarrassing." A party source said afterwards that Thornberry's "spitfire" remark was merely an observation on changing technology. 

"She was talking originally in that whole section about drones. She'd been talking to some people about drones and it was apparent that it was absolutely possible, with improving technology, that large submarines could easily be tracked, detected and attacked by drones. She said it is a question of keeping your eye on new technology ... We don't have the spitfires of the 21st century but we do have some quite old planes, Tornadoes, but they've been updated with modern technology and modern weaponry." 

Former first sea lord and security minister Alan West complained, however, that she had failed to understand how nuclear submarines worked. "Physics, basic physics!" he cried as he left. Asked how the meeting went, Neil Kinnock, who as leader reversed Labour's unilateralist position in 1989, simply let out a belly laugh. Thornberry herself stoically insisted that it went "alright". But a shadow minister told me: "Emily just evidently hadn't put in the work required to be able to credibly address the PLP - totally humiliated. Not by the noise of the hecklers but by the silence of any defenders, no one speaking up for her." 

Labour has long awaited the Europe split currently unfolding among the Tories. But its divide on Trident is far worse. The majority of its MPs are opposed to unilateral disarmament and just seven of the shadow cabinet's 31 members share Jeremy Corbyn's position. While Labour MPs will be given a free vote when the Commons votes on Trident renewal later this year (a fait accompli), the real battle is to determine the party's manifesto stance. 

Thornberry will tomorrow address the shadow cabinet and, for the first time this year, Corbyn will attend the next PLP meeting on 22 February. Both will have to contend with a divide which appears unbridgeable. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.