Hurrah for the rebels!

The government was deservedly defeated on Monday night, and I hope the prime minister looks upon his burnt fingers and realises that his complacency and arrogance is severely misplaced. Yes, her Majesty’s opposition is in disarray, and the Conservative Party is governing with a majority; but it is a slim one. There are no Lib Dems backing you up now prime minister, so show some respect to your own parliamentary party , for you can no longer ignore them.

Conservative rebel MPs joined with Labour to reject plans to relax restrictions on government campaigning in the run up the EU referendum. David Cameron was unwise and unscrupulous in seeking to prevent a proper period of “purdah”, which would have allowed the government to use all its resources to campaign to remain within the EU. It would mean our taxes being used to saturate our senses with pro-EU, scare mongering propaganda right up until we cast our vote.

It was disgracefully unprincipled of the prime minister to attempt this, and shockingly foolish, not only because he led himself into a humiliating defeat, but because if he had been successful the referendum would have been tainted by injustice. For the europhiles to win in such an unfair and unjust contest would not only be scandalous but would also inevitably create a post-referendum eurosceptic political insurrection.

Will we become an independent, free trading nation state or will we remain within the European Union? The europhiles in government must accept that we are now to have the great debate about Britain’s future. If they are so confident of their arguments then they should begin to make their case. If they believe that they can transfer major powers back to the UK then they should be confident of convincing many uncertain voters to back them.

What they must stop doing is attempting to prevent a free, fair and democratic referendum on the independence of the United Kingdom taking place.

Conservatives for Liberty commends the principled Conservative rebels for preventing the government’s attempt to get rid of purdah. The rebellion, and the backing of the Labour amendment, ensures that normal Whitehall restrictions will apply. This really was not too much to ask considering the government and the European Union will use all the resources they have to campaign for the staus quo.

In the final 28 days before the poll the government machine cannot be used to skew the vote, thanks to the following honourable rebels:

Adam Afriyie
Richard Bacon
Steve Baker
Guto Bebb
Peter Bone
Graham Brady
Andrew Bridgen
Bill Cash
Christopher Chope
Geoffrey Cox
Philip Davies
David Davis
Nadine Dories
Liam Fox
Cheryl Gillan
James Gray
Philip Hollobone
Adam Holloway
Gerald Howarth
Stewart Jackson
Bernard Jenkin
David Jones
Edward Leigh
Julian Lewis
Tim Loughton
Karl McCartney
Craig MacKinlay
Stephen McPartland
Anne Main
David Nuttall
Owen Paterson
Andrew Percy
Tom Pursglove
John Redwood
Laurence Robertson
Andrew Rosindell
Andrew Turner

Well done to you all, and thank you.

Ministers have already announced that a snap referendum will not be called, there will now be at least four months’ notice. This concession was an attempt to prevent the Commons rebellion and subsequent defeat, but it failed, and now I believe eurosceptic should keep pushing to ensure a fair vote.

Legally the referendum must be held before the end of 2017, why can we not simply set a date in 2017 and stop this sneaky and purposefully dodgy way that the government is handling this issue? That gives over a year to complete the so-called renegotiations and will put an end to all the speculation and political games.

Not only that it will allow the government to concentrate on its agenda and lay out an even battlefield for the referendum debate (well, about as even as it can get). The prime minister should stop his desperate attempts to fudge the referendum even further. I call on our Conservative MPs to continue to hold the government to account.

Ben is the Conservatives for Liberty blog editor as well as the editor of Thescepticisle.com.   His political philosophy is an organic hybrid of classical liberalism and conservatism underpinned by a healthy instinctual scepticism and he advocates a counter-revolution to roll back the power of the state. Follow him on Twitter:  @TheScepticIsle