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070, licensed to rebel

21 August 2011

9:02 PM

21 August 2011

9:02 PM

It’s no surprise that 70 Tory MPs have formed a Eurosceptic group, as the Sunday
Telegraph reveals today. They are the modernisers now. The
new Tory intake are strikingly robust on all this: by and large, their idea of political balance is a picture of Thatcher on the wall and Jacques Delors on the dartboard. The impending boundary
review and thinner-than-they-expected majorities mean they worry more about their constituency (and constituency associations) than the whips.

But I’m told today that this rebellion isn’t quite as fierce as it may seem. One Tory backbencher tells me the Tory whips have actually encouraged this group to call for renegotiation of the UK
terms of EU membership. The whips are doing this, I’m told, to stave off a greater threat: support for an in-or-out referendum. The latter is gathering momentum, and threatens to tear the coalition
apart. The Lib Dems were only recently in favour of such a referendum, but have since worked out what the likely outcome would be. Having the Tories call for renegotiation is more manageable.
That’s the theory, anyway. As James says, Europe is going to barge its way on to
the political agenda and Cameron won’t like it any more than Major did.

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