In just over half an hour, MPs will flock to the Chamber to watch the report stage and third reading of the Wharton Bill. I explained yesterday that there will be a chunk of Tories who find themselves forced to support Adam Afriyie’s call for an early referendum because it is a UKIP ‘red line’, but there is little good feeling about it. One MP, who was going to back the amendment for those reasons, told me this morning that he’d decided to abstain because the amendment does not help the eurosceptic cause at all.
Before #LetBritainDecide reaches fever pitch in the Commons, though, it’s worth considering how that eurosceptic cause has changed recently. Received wisdom is that the Tory party is split on Europe, with various warring factions who all ascribe to a different strand of Euroscepticism. This seemed particularly pronounced around the time of the Queen’s Speech. But what has now happened is that those groups tend to work together, meeting regularly and trying to push for a common cause over their various disagreements about policy.
The more damaging split is now between the organised Eurosceptics and the rogues, such as Adam Afriyie who continue to cause trouble over votes and procedure. They do not consult the organised coalition of sceptics, and do not, as the MP I spoke to this morning argued, help the overall Eurosceptic cause. Some MPs felt that John Baron fell into this category over the Queen’s Speech vote, but he remains part of the eurosceptic network, and it was his campaigning that led to this bill coming out in the first place. But there is something rather amusing about a Bill that was rushed out to quell a backbench rebellion over the Queen’s Speech being undermined by another rebellious backbencher today.