Britain's Cameron urges strained coalition to unite

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at the London Summit on Family Planning in central London July 11, 2012. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett (BRITAIN - Tags: POLITICS)

LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday urged the two parties in his coalition to unite "in the national interest", after a major rebellion by his lawmakers exposed a rift between the partners.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Conservative leader Cameron admitted that there were "profound areas of disagreement" between his party and its junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.

His appeal for the two parties to work together despite their differences comes after 91 Conservative lawmakers voted on Tuesday against government plans to reform parliament's upper chamber, the House of Lords.

The Liberal Democrats have championed proposals for a mainly elected House of Lords, and the Conservative revolt -- the biggest since the coalition came to power in May 2010 -- has raised tensions between the partners.

Cameron said the parties must maintain a united front until Britain's next general election, due in 2015.

"These differences matter and at the next election they will help define us," he wrote. "But we're not in an election, now. We're not even close."

He added: "We must rise to the challenge, recognise the extraordinary and challenging nature of the times we live in -- and serve the national interest by delivering a strong, decisive and united government."

Cameron indicated that Conservatives should not expect to make much headway on renegotiating Britain's relationship with the EU -- another issue which has caused a split with the pro-Europe Lib Dems -- until the next election.

Britain needs a "fresh settlement" on Europe, wrote Cameron, who has been battling calls from many Conservative lawmakers to hold an immediate referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU altogether.

"Work on that can begin now but it is an issue to deal with in the next parliament, under a majority Conservative government."

Cameron has rejected the calls for a so-called "in or out" referendum, but has signalled that he is open to a vote on renegotiating British ties with the 27-member bloc.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, has made it clear his party takes a more pro-European line.

The party's House of Lords bill cleared its first parliamentary hurdle on Tuesday despite the Conservative rebellion.

But it appears to be in disarray after the government was forced to cancel a vote on limiting the time it can be debated in parliament.

It is now feared that opponents will be able to filibuster or "talk out" the draft law by making marathon speeches.





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