David Cameron has survived his first backbench revolt since winning a majority government as Labour ducked a crunch EU referendum vote.
For the second day running, the SNP trooped through the Westminster voting lobby with rebel Conservative MPs, hoping to defeat the Government just five weeks into the new Parliament.
A total of 27 Tories kicked back against their whips alongside all 56 SNP MPs, four Labour members, six from the DUP, three from Plaid Cymru, two from the SDLP and Ukip’s Douglas Carswell.
However, as with Tuesday’s Scotland Bill, the vast majority of the official opposition abstained from last night’s division despite it being potentially humiliating for the Prime Minister.
That drew a furious reaction from SNP foreign affairs spokesman Alex Salmond, who accused Labour of “sitting on their hands”.
Backbench Eurosceptic MPs had argued against Government plans to suspend ‘purdah’ during the campaign.
Normally the rules prevent the government machine influencing voters in the final 28 days before a poll.
An amendment from Conservative Sir Bill Cash, which would have added purdah to the European Union Referendum Bill, was defeated by 288 votes to 97.
The crunch Commons division came less than 24 hours after the UK Government U-turned and ruled out holding the plebiscite on the same day as next May’s Holyrood elections, having previously refused to do so.
Ministers have insisted the Government has no intention of being a major player in the referendum, leaving it instead to two official campaigns and political parties, but warn normal purdah restrictions would mean important day-to-day business with the EU would grind to a halt.
Europe Minister David Lidington offered concessions in the form of new amendments when the Bill returns to the Commons at report stage in the autumn.
Courier columnist and former First Minister Mr Salmond said: “Labour have yet again chosen to abstain on a key vote they need to find a backbone and become an effective opposition in Parliament.
“The UK Government has already caved on its proposal to have the EU referendum on the same day as the Scottish and other elections but now, because of Labour, we’ve missed the opportunity to defeat the Government on purdah restrictions.”
Mr Salmond moved further amendments for a ‘quad lock’ on the referendum result, insisting each of the four nations of the United Kingdom should hold a veto on leaving the EU.
“These were also defeated comfortably.
Sir Bill and prominent former cabinet minister Owen Paterson argued the Government and EU Commission must not be allowed to bombard voters with taxpayer funded propaganda in the final days.