Although we have a funny way of showing it, the Conservative Party has rarely been more united on the vexed and vexatious question of our relationship with the European Union. After forty years' of conflict between Europhiles and Europhobes, the vast majority of contemporary Conservatives have settled somewhere on the common ground of Euroscepticism. Almost all of us believe that we have given up too many powers to Brussels and allowed our sovereignty to be encroached in too many areas. Almost all of us have concluded that Britain's continued participation in the European Union will require the negotiation of a new deal, which shifts the balance back in favour of Westminster. Almost all of us want the voters to be given a chance to express their opinion on the question of our continued membership. With little disagreement about the direction of Conservative policy or the destination we want to achieve for our country, the differences that have generated so much heated argument in recent days relate to tactics and timing.
Those who have signed today's motion want us to have a referendum before we start the long, hard slog of renegotiating the terms of our membership, a process which can only get properly underway under a majority government and which will then take several years to complete. They argue that a clear vote in favour of a renegotiated settlement will strengthen our hands in the negotiation and make it harder for our European partners to drag their feet or fob us off with paltry offers. In this, I fear my colleagues, though admirably well-intentioned, are misguided for two reasons.