The Conservative Party descended into open warfare yesterday as three MPs called for the Prime Minister David Cameron to resign over Project Fear. The calls have raised the possibility of a general election this autumn, to allow the Conservatives to seek a new mandate under a different leader.
Conservatives have been growing increasingly angered by the Prime Minister and his Chancellor George Osborne’s highly toxic ‘Project Fear’ campaign, designed to coerce the British public into voting to remain in the European Union on June 23.
In a measure of how high feelings are running in the party, one MP, using particularly graphic language, told the Sunday Times: “I don’t want to stab the Prime Minister in the back – I want to stab him in the front so I can see the expression on his face.
“You’d have to twist the knife, though, because we want it back for Osborne.”
Yesterday three MPs broke ranks to speak out publically, calling for Cameron to stop “lying” to the public or step down from his role.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen became the first to speak out, telling the BBC’s John Pienaar: “David Cameron has placed himself front and centre of a disingenuous Remain campaign, setting himself at odds with half of the Parliamentary Party and 70 per cent of our members and activists on the most important issue facing our Country in a generation,” Mr Bridgen said. “Whatever the result, I believe his position will be untenable.”
Under Conservative Party rules, 50 MPs need to write to the chairman of the 1922 committee demanding a vote of no confidence in their leader to spark a leadership race. Mr Bridgen said it was “probably highly likely” that that number would be achieved.
“Given the exaggerated claims that the prime minister’s made, there probably would be 50 colleagues who would be very dissatisfied with the prime minister’s performance,” he said.
He added that even if the Remain camp wins the referendum the Prime Minister will now likely not be able to escape opprobrium, as dissatisfied backbenchers would likely rebel against the government, bringing parliament to a standstill.
“I think we’ve seen over the last six months there’s no effective majority for the government,” he said. “I don’t see how that’s going to change moving forward. We could end up in a situation where we have a four- year ‘zombie’ parliament.
“We need to go for a general election before Christmas and get a new mandate.”
Nadine Dorries, a long-time critic of Cameron agreed, telling ITV’s Robert Peston that her letter is already in.
“If the Remain campaign wins by a large majority – I’d say it would have to be 60-40 – then David Cameron might just survive, but if Remain win by a narrow majority, or if Leave, as I certainly hope, will win, he’s toast within days,” she predicted.
And she accused Cameron of having lied profoundly throughout the campaign, adding: “I think that is actually really at the heart of why Conservative MPs have been so angered.
“To say that Turkey is not going to join the European Union as far as 30 years is a lie.
“There are many issues about which David Cameron has told outright lies, and because of that, trust has gone in both him and George Osborne… and it will be very hard for either of them to survive in the future.”
According to the Spectator, in response to the interventions William Hill cut their odds on Cameron going this year down to 2/1; a one-in-three chance.
But there was more to come as senior Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash piled on the accusations of lying, which he says have caused him to consider handing in a letter of his own.
“My view is that they’ve been engaged in monumentally misleading propaganda,” he told the Telegraph. “They have relentlessly and fragrantly been anything but impartial and inaccurate.
“Basically I think that they have got a very, very short time in which to correct all this. In my 30 year I’ve never seen anything on this including during Sir John Major’s time.
“I am certainly considering [handing in a letter]. It is up to them. My powerful warning to them is get your act together, make sure that you put voters first and the country first.”
The party appears to now be gearing up for a leadership election regardless of the outcome of the referendum, with even Mr Cameron’s allies admitting that his days in Number 10 are numbered. According to the Sunday Times, some have even claimed that UK Independence Party members are flowing back to the Conservatives so that they can help vote in a Eurosceptic successor.
Andrew RT Davies, the Tory leader in Wales, conceded: “Whatever the outcome, June 23 will set in motion the search for a new UK Conservative leader,” while another unnamed MP said: “When you tell Tories they are immoral for supporting Brexit you are going to get a kick in the nuts.”