By Paul Goodman
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- David Cameron was forced to shift his position on the EU budget during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, saying for the first time that he wants to see it cut. His party's push to toughen his stance would thus have succeeded even if the Government had won yesterday evening's vote.
- But he lost – despite the rebels briefing that he had won. The vote confirms that the Prime Minister now has no guaranteed Commons majority on EU or Europe-related issues. It's worth remembering that he has already had to pull the Whips from a vote on prisoner votes.
- Mr Cameron would probably have vetoed anything short of a budget freeze in any event (if the French or the Danes don't get there first) – assuming that the negotiations take place as planned. Although Downing Street says that it won't treat yesterday's vote as binding, the Prime Minister has little choice but to appease his backbenchers.
- Sir George Young, the new Chief Whip, has lost his first big vote and is in a bind. On the one hand, not making concessions to rebels risks defeat and accusations that the Government isn't listening. On the other, making concessions also risks defeat, since these can be seen as legitimising their position.
- The success of the revolt will embolden backbench rebels elsewhere. Three line Whips are now even less likely to be deployed on backbench business that the Government may lose (following the example of the handling of last week's vote on the proposed badger cull). Remember that a Whip told ConservativeHome that the party is now "unwhippable".
- The Prime Minister is being pushed against his will towards a big renegotiation package on the next Conservative manifesto. A referendum commitment of some kind will probably come with it. Michael Gove's recent intervention has made an "In/In" poll less likely. The Conservative Party is moving towards an In/Out referendum if renegotiation doesn't work.
- The Reckless/Carswell/Hannan axis is making the running on the EU in general, and making progress in its push for an In/Out referendum in particular. The leadership of Fresh Start voted in different lobbies yesterday evening. The bottom line of the renegotiators is unclear, while that of Team Reckwell is very clear indeed.
- Yet again, there are claims that Mr Cameron lost his temper with a rebel. The Times (£) reports that "No 10 conceded that Mr Cameron may have confronted one of the Tory rebels,
Andrew Bingham, the MP for High Peak, at a drinks reception in Downing
Street the previous evening about his support for the rebel amendment."
- The Miliband/Balls/Alexander gambit was cynical, but it paid off in the end.
- The Liberal Democrats were scarcely to be seen. Nick Clegg's attack on Mr Miliband today is a day late.
The Prime Minister's approach to the EU issue to date has been to let the tide of opinion in his party drag him reluctantly along in its wake.
Cabinet members are now bound to be asking themselves, in the wake of the Gove intervention and yesterday evening's vote, whether this is any longer sustainable.
Mr Cameron left the EU out of his Party conference speech. It has been hinted that he will deliver a big speech on it before Christmas. He should decide today to bring that date forward.