Whatever happens on May 7th, Europe is going to shape the next two years of Conservative Party politics.
If David Cameron stays as Prime Minister, either in another Coalition or forming a minority government, he is going to be the leader of the ‘in’ wing of the Tory party, leaving an internal vacancy for a figurehead for the ‘out’ campaign. Or, if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister and Cameron goes, any potential Tory leadership contender will have to prove his or her Eurosceptic credentials to have a hope of winning.
Today, two such contenders have done just that. Boris Johnson, who has flirted before with the possibility of backing ‘Brexit’, tells Time magazine: “I think Brexit is possible … [Britain] would very rapidly come to an alternative arrangement that protected our basic trading interests”. The Mayor of London caveated his position, but clearly he is open to the idea: “I think there would be a pretty testy, scratchy period … [but] it wouldn’t be disastrous”.
Also showing some leg is Sajid Javid, who suggests in an interview with House magazine that Cameron should let senior Tories campaign for an ‘out’ vote at the referendum. He says: “when it comes to issues that are really important to people – Europe [is] one of them… MPs ultimately, they have a relationship with their constituents and they will decide which way it is they want to campaign”.
It goes without saying that Boris is a contender and Javid is possibly the strongest of the less obvious candidates – one Tory MP says “he has a great story” and will “definitely” throw his hat in the ring post-Cameron. With Europe such a defining issue in any future leadership battle, don’t be surprised to see Eurosceptic interventions from Theresa May and other hopefuls before the election.