British PM faces embarrassment over EU vote
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday faced his first major test from within his own party as eurosceptic backbenchers threatened to defy him in a vote on an EU membership referendum.
Monday's vote in the lower House of Commons is non-binding but politically significant with up to 85 Conservative lawmakers tipped to ignore Cameron's order for them to vote against any referendum.
The Liberal Democrats, The government's junior coalition partners, and the main opposition Labour party are both expected to vote with Cameron, so defeat is highly unlikely but victory will only expose the extent of the Tory rebellion.
Cameron has imposed a three-line whip, which usually results in dismissal for any member of the government who votes against it and presents a large obstacle in the career path of any rebel backbench MPs.
The Tory leader on Sunday attempted to appease potential rebels by threatening a show of strength against the EU as he joined the bloc's leaders at a Brussels crisis summit on the eurozone.
On the eve of the vote, the prime minister promised to "exact a price" if the eurozone countries sought closer integration to deal with the ongoing economic crisis after admitting that treaty changes were on the agenda.
"Any treaty change...is an opportunity for Britain to advance our national interest," he said.
"The last limited treaty change, which brought about the European stability mechanism, gave us the opportunity to get out of the euro bail-out fund that the last government opted into."
However, Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg leapt on Cameron's comments, saying it was "far too early to speculate".
Cameron warned that countries outside the eurozone risked being frozen out amid efforts for a pooled response.
"There is a danger ... that as this eurozone coming together happens, there is a risk that those countries outside the euro ... might see the eurozone members starting to take decisions that affect the single market."
Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were earlier involved in a heated exchange with the French leader telling Cameron he was "sick of him telling us what to do", according to British newspapers The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.
Cameron also cancelled upcoming visits to New Zealand and Japan in order to attend another crucial meeting on the crisis on Wednesday.
The British leader was due to visit the two countries later this week, but will instead attend a hastily-arranged meeting of the European Council as officials desperately seek a solution to the debt problem.
Arch-eurosceptic rivals the UK Independence Party (UKIP) on Sunday capitalised on Conservative dissent by hinting they could step aside for Tory candidates in a future election if they vote on Monday to hold the referendum.
"In the past, I have made sure we didn't stand (in elections) against candidates who vote on conscience and for their country," UKIP Euro MP Nigel Farage told AFP on the sidelines of the summit.
"All I'm saying is we will give serious consideration to similar decisions," he added.
The leading eurosceptic figure in the European Parliament, Farage's party chalked up a million votes at the last general election in Britain that handed Cameron office in a coalition with euro-friendly Liberal Democrats.
Foreign Secretary William Hague, who vehemently argued against Britain's membership of the Euro while in opposition, on Saturday turned into the bloc's defender, warning that the proposed referendum would hurt Britain's economy.
Hague said he would like to see some powers returned from Brussels to London, a possible concession ahead of the vote.
A parliamentary committee ordered the vote after more than 100,000 Britons signed a petition asking for a choice on the country's EU membership.
© 2011 AFP