29 May 2012

More than four fifths of Tory members want in/out vote pledge in manifesto

Is Euro-scepticism in the Tory Party hardening into Euro-rejectionism? And how will the leadership ride that wave? A poll of Tory members conducted by Conservative Home for Channel 4 News suggests that 70 per cent of them would vote to come out of the EU if there was an in/out referendum now.

Number 10 sources said that was pretty much where they had thought activist opinion was (The source added that he thought up to 100 Tory MPs would vote the same way if there was a referendum now).

The poll also suggests that the pressure to have an absolute non-negotiable commitment to a referendum on the EU in the next Tory manifesto may well be insurmountable now. The referendum pledge might take the form of an immediate in/out referendum or – the more popular version amongst senior cabinet ministers – could see a commitment to have a post-dated referendum to be preceded by a renegotiation of Britain’s membership terms.

The idea behind the latter suggesting would be that Brussels would buckle and concede repatriation of loads of pooled powers and trim down to a free trade area agreement under threat of a British walk-out. In the Conservative Home poll, 83% of Tory members want one or the other referendum in the next Tory manifesto. They’ll want it marked “non-negotiable” in any coalition talks as well I suspect.

On top of the internal pressures there are external ones. A Labour shadow cabinet meeting earlier this month discussed the possibility of backing a referendum on Europe. I hear that Andy Burnham was one of a handful of shadow ministers who sounded in favour of the idea.

And then there is the march of UKIP. One source close to David Cameron is convinced that UKIP will top the poll in the 2014 Euro Elections. They came second in share of the (low turnout) vote last time round. The source said No.10 was braced for full-scale panic in thepParty at that point.

The speculation around all this has been hotting up recently (see also this Spectator article) and one of the last remnants of the old Europhile tendency in the Tory Party, Ken Clarke, added his near unique voice to the debate on Radio 4 this morning. He said, on the idea of having a referendum commitment in the next Tory manifesto:

“It’s a complete non sequitur.. . a complete irrelevance…  I can’t think of anything sillier to do…  I’m not keen on referendums… It’s just the frenzied Eurosceptics who believe in the bogies under the bed… the demand for a referendum comes from a few right-wing journalists and extreme nationalist politicians.” 

His tolerance of what he sees as silliness could be severely tested before too long.

Here’s the poll:

We asked Conservative Home to survey Tory Party members over the last three days. They contacted 1,604 Tory members between 26 to 28 May and here are the poll responses:

1. Thinking of the next Conservative General Election manifesto, should it…?

Have a commitment to an in/out referendum to be held in the next Parliament: 42 per cent

Commit to a renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership with no explicit referendum promise: 17 per cent

Commit to a renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership to be followed by an in/out referendum: 41 per cent

2. If there was an In/Out referendum tomorrow would you vote?

In: 23 per cent

Out: 70 per cent

3. We also offered the Tory Party members a series of options (replicating a poll Conservative Home tried last Autumn results here):

The UK should remain full members of the EU and participate in further EU integration: 4 per cent

The UK should remain full members of the EU but reject future integration: 8 per cent

The UK should secure substantial renegotiation of its existing relationship with the EU but remain full members: 34 per cent

The UK should leave the EU altogether and negotiate a separate trade agreement: 54 per cent

4.  Thinking 10 years ahead, do you think Britain will still be in the EU?

Yes, Britain will still be in the EU and the EU won’t be much changed: 26 per cent

Yes, Britain will still be in the EU but the EU will be significantly reformed: 38 per cent

No, Britain will be outside of the EU: 36 per cent

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