David Cameron will this week urge Tory MPs not to throw away the 2015 general election with another round of infighting on Europe, amid fears that the defection of Douglas Carswell to the UK Independence party could trigger a wave of disunity.
The prime minister will address Tory MPs on Tuesday evening to try to calm the party’s nerves. One senior backbencher said of Mr Carswell’s defection last week: “I think it has cost us the next election.”
The prospect of Mr Carswell winning a parliamentary by-election for Ukip in his Clacton seat has reawakened demands from Tory eurosceptics for Mr Cameron to toughen up his line on Europe or seek a deal with Nigel Farage’s party.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a prominent eurosceptic Tory MP, said his party should make a “bold and generous offer” to Ukip involving a non-aggression pact.
“The prime minister needs to be clear that he will lead a No campaign or an Out campaign in the event that his negotiations are unsuccessful,” he said.
“Ahead of that he needs to set out the terms of the renegotiation. The PM would be trusted more if he does set out what he wanted in the first place.”
Mark Reckless, another eurosceptic MP, has said his personal election manifesto would include a commitment to campaign to leave the EU, whatever Mr Cameron achieves in his renegotiation.
That raises the spectre of Tory candidates fighting on different platforms on Europe at the next election, reminiscent of John Major’s fractious campaign in 1997.
Mr Cameron will tell MPs that if they have voters who want Britain to pull out of the EU under any circumstances then only a Tory government would give them a chance to have their say in a referendum.
A Ukip spokesman said renewed talk of a pact reflected “chatter from very nervous Tory MPs” who feared they could lose their seats.
In 2010 Ukip decided not to contest four seats held by fervent eurosceptics: Philip Davies, Philip Hollobone, Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell.
That is likely to be the model for 2015 rather than an agreement at a national level. “We would tolerate local deals, if a sound anti-EU MP from another party is not opposed by the local Ukip branch, we wouldn’t be in the business of saying, ‘yes you must stand’,” the spokesman said.
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