EIGHTY-SEVEN Conservative MPs voted to stop foreign criminals using human rights law to avoid deportation, defying No.10 advice that the move is illegal.
The rebels backed an amendment to the Immigration Bill to give ministers, rather than judges, the final say on whether foreign offenders should be kicked out.
The proposal failed when Labour joined forces with the Liberal Democrats - amid the extraordinary sight of David Cameron ordering his ministers to abstain on his own Bill.
But the vote was immediately seen as triggering another bout of damaging ‘Tory wars’ over the toxic issues of immigration and European human rights laws.
Downing Street was forced to give ground just hours before the vote, faced with the biggest revolt of the Coalition’s four years in power.
No.10 first tried to avoid vote, then spent many hours twisting arms – and then ordered Government troops to retreat, to avoid further embarrassment Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow Home Secretary, accused the Tories of being “scared of their own backbenchers” - attacking a “car crash” for the Government.
Criticising the Home Secretary Theresa May, she said: “She sat on her hands because she was scared. What kind of Home Secretary is that? What kind of government is this?”
And one Liberal Democrat backbencher, John Pugh, said: “Conservative ministers are abstaining on their own legislation. Not even John Major looked this weak. Pathetic.”
However, many Tory rebels were delighted to have forced Labour into a position where the Opposition failed to back a populist measure, with an election approaching.
None were from the North-East or North Yorkshire. And none of the region’s Labour MPs were among the ten rebels in Ed Miliband’s party.
The Tory backbencher who put forward the amendment, Dominic Raab said foreign criminals were using their right to a family life as the “joker” to escape deportation.
Many crime victims were being put at risk because their attacker remained in the UK, while human rights had become “dirty words”, he warned ministers.
Mr Cameron said he shared the rebels’ aim - deporting more foreign criminals - but feared the amendment would breach European human rights legislation and be unworkable.
But, later, MPs did vote in favour of the Home Secretary's equally controversial plan to strip foreign-born terror suspects of UK citizenship.
Labour abstained and Nick Clegg threw his weight behind the measure, despite warnings that it would leave some suspects stateless.
Pat Glass, the North West Durham MP, acknowledged that abstaining made her feel uncomfortable, but said the vote would have been lost regardless.
She added: “I don’t feel great about that vote. There is something unpleasant about leaving people stateless.
“These are dangerous people, but leaving anybody stateless doesn’t fit in with out history of liberty and freedom in Britain. We would not have won the vote anyway.”