British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing a revolt from among his Conservatives for encouraging lawmakers to ignore their local party’s views on an upcoming European Union membership referendum.
Cameron has said he will back staying in the EU if a draft deal on Britain’s future relationship published this week is agreed by other EU leaders, but many in his party, which is deeply divided over Europe, do not plan to back his position.
Earlier this week Cameron told parliament that lawmakers should not decide which side to campaign for based on what their local party group might say, instead telling them to do what they think “is right for Britain”.
The comments have provoked an angry response from party members, who said they had undermined the goodwill Cameron had gained from promising the referendum in the first place.
“We urge the prime minister to refrain from showing any disrespect to the loyal servants who helped him win a majority government,” representatives of more than 40 local party associations wrote in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph.
“It is deeply regrettable that the prime minister dismisses the very people who helped secure his victory, and he should remember that no prime minister has a divine right to rule.”
A survey of 144 of the Conservative’s 330 lawmakers conducted by the Sunday Times newspaper found 57 percent of those who had made up their mind planned to campaign to leave the bloc.
Cameron, who promised the membership vote in part due to pressure from eurosceptic members of his party, hopes it will help settle the long-running splits within the Conservatives over Europe.
The internal rifts over Britain’s involvement in the European Union have dogged the party for decades and contributed to the downfall of two previous Conservative prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
The EU’s draft text addressed all four areas where Cameron wants reform. While officials claimed victory in winning concessions to stem migration and to boost British sovereignty, eurosceptics said Britain’s demands had been watered down.