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Tories Admit Using Referendum As ‘Battle For the Party’

Former Tory MP Matthew Parris writes in The Times: “This is a battle for the soul of the Tory party.”

Here’s a riddle. I’m hot for staying in a club that leaves me cold: losing sleep about the real possibility that Britain may quit an organisation for which I hold no candle at all. And there are many like me: we see the EU as a flawed and irritating institution whose future is foggy. Yet we’re certain — almost passionately so — that this is no time to leave.

So as the campaign proper for Britain’s EU referendum kicks off this weekend, I have been surprised how strongly I and many other perfectly eurosceptical Tories believe that Britain should stay. Many of us hadn’t expected to feel like this.

Are we bothered? Yes we are. It’s Project Fear that has turned us, and I don’t mind admitting it. Fear of the economic consequences of leaving. Distaste at many of the crew who want us out. Anxiety about the impact on our allies in Europe and worldwide if we kick this huge enterprise in European co-operation in the guts. Alarm at the rise of anger in the world. Shame that we British might come to be judged by history as vandals.

And horror at what this would mean for the party I’ve supported all my adult life. June 23 will define the Conservative party for a generation. We moderate Tories are staring down the barrel of a gun: the strong chance of a crushing triumph for the Tory right. To that last horror I shall return below; but first to the wider anxieties. On the economic consequences for Britain, should we leave, I’ll do no more than venture a modest observation that’s been rather overlooked. Some say that if Britain leaves, we would lose many of the economic benefits that come with membership of the single market. Others say we would not, and could renegotiate comparable terms.

As far as I know, nobody is seriously saying we could get better terms than we have already. Forgive me, but given that a leap in the dark is proposed, wouldn’t you expect the Leave campaign to do more than deny that we’d be punished and explain instead how we’d be rewarded?

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