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The Tory Split on “Brexit”

James Forsyth comments [1] on Boris Johnson’s support [2] for U.K. withdrawal from the EU:

With Boris and six Cabinet Minister backing Out alongside close to half of the parliamentary party, it is impossible to claim that the Tory party is largely behind this deal. This will have a knock on effect on Tory voters. Another consequence of the fact that Boris and Michael Gove are both backing Out is that businessmen, celebrities and donors will feel free to back leaving the EU without it looking like a UKIP endorsement.

Earlier this month, the Leave campaign had already taken the lead [3] in polling over Remain. These high-profile statements of support for withdrawal from leading Tories can only hurt Cameron’s effort to keep the U.K. in the EU. They show once again just how deep and significant the longstanding rift in the party over Europe has been and continues to be. The overall lead [4] for “Leave” was nine points at the start of the month, and among Conservative voters it was 18. There is broad support for remaining in the EU among Labour and Liberal Democrat voters, but even in those parties there are sizable minorities (26% in both parties) that want to leave. UKIP voters are naturally almost unanimously in favor of leaving.

Michael Gove made the case for leaving the EU [5] yesterday. He emphasized that people in Britain should be able to govern themselves and continued membership in the EU makes that practically impossible:

My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time.

But our membership of the European Union prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out.

Gove’s case for “Brexit” seems fairly persuasive, and it hits on the main political deficiencies of the EU: the lack of accountability for the political class that governs it and the lack of popular consent to their rule. If the EU is increasingly perceived as illegitimate by the people in its member states, it is just a matter of time before those states that can afford to leave will do so. Framing withdrawal from the EU as the reclamation of enduring British political traditions is a savvy move, and one that will likely have broad appeal.

The referendum has been set for June 23 [6], and right now “Brexit” is looking more likely than not.


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10 Comments To "The Tory Split on “Brexit”"

#1 Comment By Randal On February 21, 2016 @ 1:44 pm

right now “Brexit” is looking more likely than not.

I’m a firm supporter of us leaving (because the EU is a birthing United States of Europe and as with the USA that means a civil war within the signers’ lifetimes imo), and I’d love to think you are right in that, but I would still put my money on Remain, when it comes down to it.

The polls are highly unreliable on this and can be used to argue for either side – see the FT’s list of polls here:


The status quo will always have a massive advantage, when it comes down to the actual vote, in referendums in Britain, especially when the political and media elites are so strongly in favour of it and are therefore prepared to allow the Remain campaign to indulge in all kinds of scaremongering, smearing and distortion. Note that despite the strong lead for leaving in amongst the “Conservative” party membership, 18 out of 25 cabinet members will be campaigning to stay in. And that’s the closest thing to a “eurosceptic” party amongst the mainstream parties with significant representation in Parliament.

Boris is a rather special case, as he is a pro-EU politician (he even used to argue for Turkish membership, before that became too ridiculous) trying to pretend to be eurosceptic for partisan political reasons – he has ambitions for the leadership of the “Conservative” Party. The fact that he has chosen to come out against remaining in the EU suggests to me that he is confident there’s no real danger of a vote going against his preferred position. He thinks he can afford to back the Out campaign and gain partisan kudos as a noble loser in a good cause, and reap personal support from “Conservative” Party eurosceptic members bitter about Cameron’s betrayal when the next leadership campaign comes around.

#2 Comment By Sean Scallon On February 21, 2016 @ 3:23 pm

If it happens get ready for another Scottish independence referendum at least by 2018.

#3 Comment By Bob_the_other On February 21, 2016 @ 5:28 pm

I imagine this is very good for realist foreign policy, no? A Britain outside the EU is much less likely to be interested in reforming the world in its own image, and much less interesting as an ally in propping up bad American foreign policy judgement.

#4 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On February 21, 2016 @ 6:01 pm


#5 Comment By bacon On February 22, 2016 @ 1:52 am

From the viewpoint of an American with no horse in the race, I would choose Brexit for 2 reasons. First, as has been said by several prominent British politicians, why would one choose allowing officials outside one’s own electoral jurisdiction to make laws one must obey? We in the US left over just that issue. Second, as a matter of general principle, bureaucracies as large and powerful as that in Brussels should be opposed and diminished whenever possible.

#6 Comment By wufnik On February 22, 2016 @ 8:37 am

There’s no question that the EU has screwed up on some major issues–Greece, migration, you name it. However, I can think of two compelling reasons to remain in the EU. First, the UK would be able to weaken environmental laws below EU standards, and the Tories can’t wait to do that–look at their sterling support for renewables as compared with practically everyone else in Europe. Second, the EU is coming around to be against the TIPP, one of the worst trade treaties ever, while the US keeps pushing it (along with other multi-national firm protection laws). Guess which way these guys will go if they have the chance? The Tory obsession with being the 51st state is a real concern, and leaving the EU would make it worse.

#7 Comment By mark_be On February 22, 2016 @ 9:03 am

Let them leave. As long as the Brits want to do trade with the EU, it’ll have to be on the EU’s terms anyway. And this way we won’t have them whining about every little rule that’s oh so unfair to them while continuously obstructing any meaningful changes in policy.

#8 Comment By Flavius On February 22, 2016 @ 2:19 pm

Sacrifice one’s nationality for security and easier terms on your pot of porridge.
“This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

Good Bye little world, Hello Brussels.

#9 Comment By cecelia On February 22, 2016 @ 9:39 pm

they should leave. Ask yourself if the US would ever join the EU? Or a North American version? Of course not – Americans even the elites would not tolerate abdicating control of law and policy to some other bunch. A lot of Americans can’t even stomach the UN yet we will now insist the UK do what we would never do.

Gove’s reasons for leaving are great but I think there are more – inevitably you are looking at transfer of control over the UK military and foreign policy to Brussels. I also would say there are fundamental differences between English common law (law protects the individual from an over reaching state) and the more prevalent Napoleonic Code on the continent (law protects the state from the individual). There are serious democratic legitimacy issues and the EU Parliament does not control the EU bureaucracy which like any cadre of uncontrolled bureaucrats is regulation crazy.

I do think the EU is doomed. Gorbachev wondered why the Europeans were so anxious to recreate the failed USSR but there is also a lesson to be learned from US history – union is only possible when there is a shared understanding of who the enemy is and who one’s friends are. I do not think that can be said about all EU states some of whom fear Russia while others happily are willing to sell military hardware to the Russians.

As for Scotland – it seems absurd to talk about an “independent” Scotland when they would simply become a province of the US of Europe – is that a better exchange than remaining in a union with peoples whom they share a history and culture with?

#10 Comment By Jason On February 22, 2016 @ 10:59 pm

“As for Scotland – it seems absurd to talk about an “independent” Scotland when they would simply become a province of the US of Europe – is that a better exchange than remaining in a union with peoples whom they share a history and culture with?”

For many Scots, yes.

England is seen as Toryland, and Scots have tended to be more left-wing in their recent election results. One of the reasons for the SNP’s near sweep at last general election was Labour standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories in urging a “No” vote at the referendum. It resulted in a big swing of Scottish Labour voters swinging to the SNP.

Even Labour’s left swing under Corbyn isn’t having any benefit in Scotland: [8]