1 in 5 Tory MPs support Brexit – think tank
The results show the growing divide over the European question between the prime minister and his party.
According to the research by London-based think tank Open Europe, some 67 of 330 Tory lawmakers say they are either ‘firmly out’ or ‘out leaning,’ with 203 saying they had not yet made up their mind.
Cameron was forced to commit to an in/out referendum after Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) enjoyed a pre-election surge. He has promised a national referendum on Britain’s EU membership before the end of 2017 after a renegotiation of the terms of UK membership.
The referendum could be called as early as March 2016.
The research, which took into account public statements and voting preferences of lawmakers, found that 14 were firmly pro-EU and 44 were leaning towards staying in.
Open Europe analyst Pawel Swidlicki said the number of undecided MPs in the party showed “how important it will be for Cameron to secure a comprehensive and ambitious reform package in order to ensure that the bulk of his party, as well as the wider public, sees any recommendation to remain within the EU as credible.”
Within the cabinet, there are 12 members out of 21 who have not expressed a firm opinion, with five leaning towards voting for an ‘out’ and four leaning toward ‘in’, the think tank calculated.
The research comes as the funder of the official ‘out’ campaign, Arron Banks, says Europe’s migrant and refugee policy has swayed the opinion of many Brits towards leaving the EU.
The multi-millionaire insurance tycoon said the ongoing refugee crisis is likely to force Cameron to call a referendum earlier than planned, adding the PM’s efforts to renegotiate the UK’s terms of membership are likely to fail.
Banks, a former Tory party donor, turned to UKIP after losing faith in Cameron’s leadership.
He said on Friday the crisis had “massively played into [the out campaign’s] hands.” He said the influx of displaced individuals had highlighted the problems with completely open borders.
“The EU is about big politics, big business, big banks. It’s not about normal people,” Banks said.
“The EU will break apart – our job is to knock the first brick out of the wall and hopefully we will then see the rest of it collapse.”
“Our position is: look – get a divorce and the sun still comes up. Everything will work just as it did before and you then sit down with your partners for the real negotiation – on how we exit,” he said.
“Why do we believe we’ve lost our national mojo?”