Peter Riddell has suggested that David Cameron's pledge to take Tory MEPs out of the European People's Party is the first big mistake of his likely leadership. Mr Cameron made his pledge after Liam Fox put the issue on the agenda, in September.
David Davis - perhaps because he couldn't risk the defection of early Europhile backers like Ian Taylor - refused to match the pledge and some of his supporters have suggested the issue is totemic. Mr Davis has attempted to establish his own Eurosceptic credentials with commitments on fishing policy and a double-referendum commitment to repatriate powers from Brussels.
Mr Riddell believes that outside of the EPP Britain's Conservative MEPs would have no natural, mainstream allies. They would, he predicts, "languish amid a rag-bag of fringe parties, including nationalists and racists". Mr Riddel predicts that the grouping of Tory MEPs will split:
"A clear majority of the 26-strong group at Strasbourg opposes a divorce, not least because they committed themselves at the European elections last year to remaining linked to the EPP until 2009. Most of this majority are sceptics, with only a tiny handful of Europhiles. This is completely separate from Mr Cameron’s general Eurosceptic stance, which most of the MEPs back."
Mr Riddell may be right in saying that a majority of Conservative MEPs oppose the policy change. In reality, however, Tory MEPs are divided into rough thirds on the issue. One-third enthusiastically want out of the EPP grouping and association with its federalist, pro-euro agenda. These include Daniel Hannan and Martin Callahan. Mr Callahan has said that "leaving the EPP is the one hard, bankable commitment to have come out of this leadership campaign". One-third, including Sir Robert Atkins, fervently support the alignment with the EPP and Europe's other mainstream centre-right parties. And the remaining third will go along (perhaps reluctantly) with whatever the new party leader requires.