LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron survived a potentially humiliating challenge to his policies toward the European Union on Wednesday by a closer margin in Parliament than forecast, illuminating the depth of dissent within his party over an issue that has divided it for decades.
In a parliamentary ballot, 130 lawmakers, most from Cameron’s Conservative Party, voted in favor of a resolution criticizing his handling of a burgeoning crisis over whether Britain should leave the 27-nation European bloc tseen as a cornerstone of the economic and political architecture.
British analysts had forecast that about 80 legislators would support the resolution.
Cameron has promised an “in-out” referendum on British membership in the European Union by 2017 if he wins the next election in 2015. He also pledged to renegotiate Britain’s ties to the body. But many Conservative lawmakers want him to move faster and more decisively, and the ballot measure Wednesday criticized Cameron for failing to enshrine his European pledges immediately in law.
Cameron was winding up a three-day visit to the United States with a debate on global issues of poverty and development at the United Nations.
In New York, Cameron played down the vote’s impact.
“I don’t think people can read in anything really to the scale of that free vote, not least because only the Conservative Party has a very clear position and a very clear policy about what needs to happen in Europe,” he said.
The rebellion nonetheless highlighted the party’s vulnerability to decades of corrosive debate about its ties to a European bloc that skeptics depict as a monstrous superstate devouring British sovereignty.