Brexit: Will PM Cameron be able to manage own party?

We are still far from any campaign related to in-out EU referendum, but still, how would you say PM David Cameron will be able to manage the hard-eurosceptic wing of his party, how big is the danger of a real rift inside the Conservative Party over the referendum? Read few comments.

Tim BaleProfessor, Chair in Politics, Queen Mary, University London, Author of the book: The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron

The danger has been latent rather than manifest for a year or two – primarily because of the election and the need to maintain a united front. Fighting is beginning to break out again, however, because it’s becoming increasingly obvious to everyone – and Eurosceptics especially – that Cameron is determined to secure a yes vote, almost irrespective of the package he negotiates, and because it looks like he is going to insist on cabinet collective responsibility. They, on the other hand, are asking for the moon by demanding things like a parliamentary veto on any law coming out of Brussels. There are between fifty and a hundred MPs who will probably want to recommend we leave whatever happens – the so-called irreconcilables – although patronage and a desire to keep the show on the road will reduce their number to the lower end of that range eventually. So, yes, there will be a big argument – and yes it will go on for much longer than many people in the party think is sensible. But ultimately it is unlikely to split the party so badly that it can’t put itself back together again, especially under a new leader (since Cameron has declared he’ll go before 2020), in time for the next general election.

Kristian SteinnesProfessor, Department of Historical Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

It is a difficult question. The only solution the hard-euroscpetic faction are ready to accept is that Britain leaves the EU (Brexit). All other solutions are, in their opinion, half-way houses. Their ultimate goal is to get Britain out of the EU. So it is a very tough issue for PM Cameron.

Yet I think that his step of accepting and carry out an in-out referendum is an adequate way to keep them both inside the party and also to manage/reduce their (long-term) influence. If Cameron obtain a ‘yes’ in the referendum (which is likely, or at least possible), he has taken the steam out of the issue for quite some time, and it will be very difficult to blame him for being too soft on Brussels. Nor can they hold him responsible for all the problems the they believe stems from Britain’s EU membership.

As to your question, thus, I think that accepting the referendum is a good, possibly the only way, to manage the eurosceptic wing of his party. Based on the same reasoning, the promised referendum also has the capacity to prevent a rift inside the Conservative Party. The referendum will not solve the problem completely, neither will it disappear, but it is difficult to see what fissionable harm the eurosceptic wing can inflict on the Conservative Party after the referendum. Perhaps the only choice left for the die-hard faction, then, is to accept the situation or jump to the UKIP?

Jonathan Tonge, Professor of Politics, University of Liverpool

David Cameron won’t be able to manage the hard eurosceptic wing of his party. They will campaign against the deal he negotiates. What will matter to David Cameron will be the SIZE of the eurosceptic group within his party. If he can negotiate a good deal with Europe that group will be small. If he receives few concessions from Europe, the eurosceptic group will be very large and will include members of his own Cabinet. That will lead to a temporary civil war within the Conservative Party.

Christopher Gifford, Head of Department of Behavioural and Social Sciences, University of Huddersfield

I think a serious split is a real possibility. There is a significant number of hard Eurosceptics who want out. The recently launched Conservatives for Europe has 50 MP s. Cameron is unlikely to get the reforms he needs to make a convincing ‘Eurosceptic’ argument and win over those who are waverers, and will be ruthlessly criticised by ‘exiters’. Bully tactics won’t work and backfire – his recent announcement and then u-turn on ministers supporting Brexit would have to resign was a disaster. I think a significant section of the party including the leadership will come out against, Cameron will be seen to have failed in the negotiations. Even if he wins, it won’t resolve the issue and the campaign will further unite hard Eurosceptics. My feeling is that the divisions in the party over Europe will deepen.



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