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The Conservative Party is as divided on Europe as it ever was... and a referendum is the only way to achieve closure

By Tim Montgomerie
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One of the things that has been repeated a lot in recent days is the idea that the Tories are now united on Europe. It was central to Michael Gove's tour of the broadcast media this morning. Unfortunately it's not true. The party is as divided as ever but it's divided differently.

Twenty years ago the division was between the likes of Clarke, Gummer, Heseltine, Howe, Hurd and Patten and a few people like Cash, Redwood and Tebbit. Today the vast majority of Conservative MPs are Eurosceptic and the new MPs in particular.  49 of the 81 rebels come from the Class of 2010. Only very recently they stood up in selection meetings and promised to support a referendum. Given boundary changes they might be reminded of those promises again soon. Although the party is more Eurosceptic there are two very different kinds of Eurosceptic. There are the people who want some kind of renegotiation (S, M, L or XL in size) and there are the smaller but still significant number of Outers. This division is different but it's no less serious. If allowed to fester it has the potential to cause Cameron as much grief as old divisions caused John Major.

My guess is that Cameron can't resolve the problem by better party management although that will help him avoid it erupting as violently as it did yesterday. There is only one way to resolve the issue and that is via a referendum. A referendum process will be tricky with Tories pitted against one another but it's the only way of bringing closure to what has been a very damaging and now decades-long split in Conservative ranks. Until the British people have given their verdict Europe will remain an issue of huge controversy and distract us from the bread and butter issues of greater immediate importance to most voters.


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