Europe: The different faces of Tory 'unity'

  • 16 May 2013
  • From the section England
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Wellingborough MP Peter Bone
Image caption Wellingborough MP Peter Bone is behind the EU referendum amendment

"The Conservative Party has never been more united on Europe than it is now," declares Peter Bone.

Yes, he is the man behind the the EU referendum amendment to the Queen's Speech and yes, that's the amendment hailed as proof that the party is divided.

The Wellingborough MP explains his logic: "The Prime Minister wants to see this bill discussed in parliament. The absolute aim of the amendment is to force it on to the floor of the House (of Commons) and support the PM.

No difference

"The PM wants to explore every means of getting this debated and what we're doing is helping him getting it debated.

"We are supporting him in carrying it forward. There's no difference to what he wants. We are not undermining the PM - that's ludicrous."

Members of his own party though are not in accord.

Essex MP Douglas Carswell, a member of the Better Off Out campaign group which calls for the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union, originally signed the amendment but explained why he abstained.

"I think we've got what we want. I backed the amendment originally because I wanted to see the legislation for a referendum. The government has now published that legislation," he said.

"The onus now is on people like me to persuade Labour MPs to get this on the statute books. We're not going to achieve this by fighting with fellow Conservatives."

Someone should have told Mr Bone.

"We're not at odds," he maintains. "That's a wild interpretation. The PM says 'How can we get this on the floor of the house?'

"His hands are tied by the pesky Lib Dems 'but you backbenchers can do it'.

"I haven't had this conversation because he's in America but I'm sure that's the way it would have gone."

Personally I am not convinced that's exactly the way it would have gone.


Mr Carswell has some advice: "We need to be cool-headed. The PM has given us a commitment to an In/Out Referendum. It's quite fair enough that we are saying we want to see that on the statute book now and as of Monday, the government published a bill to make that happen. So why are we still pushing Downing Street?"

Why indeed? And why is the PM unable to get his own Cabinet to vote against a critical amendment and for the government? It speaks volumes about the state of his leadership.

"The real obstacle is Nick Clegg and we can overcome that," said Douglas Carswell. "For the first time in 40 years a government has published a bill that will allow a vote to leave the European union.

"That's an extraordinary historic opportunity. That's a prize worth going for. Squabbling amongst ourselves is not the way forward."

Hard to swallow

One thing Peter Bone won't squabble about is that Mr Clegg is the problem. He believes that the PM now has the moral authority to go to the Lib Dem leader and make the case that parliament wants this bill.

"The only thing the public will know is that the Conservatives are for it and the Lib Dems and Labour are against it."

Nice try by the Wellingborough MP but the idea that defying Mr Cameron's strategy is making the PM a happy man is hard to swallow.