A clear majority of the Conservative politicians elected this month backed the UK to remain in the EU in the referendum a year ago, an FT analysis shows, suggesting that many may be flexible as to the particular form of Brexit that Theresa May’s government pursues.
Moderate Conservative MPs had feared their party would be reshaped by an influx of hardline Eurosceptics, but such predictions have failed to materialise, partly because the Tories only gained large numbers of target seats in Remain-supporting Scotland.
Conservative head office also appeared to block some anti-EU campaigners, including Daniel Hannan MEP, from becoming candidates.
Since the election, the chancellor Philip Hammond and the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson have led a push for a Brexit deal that prioritises business and jobs.
According to the FT’s analysis, 176 of the 317 Conservative MPs backed Remain. The figures do not include John Bercow, the Speaker, who voted Remain.
Although the majority, like Mrs May and Mr Hammond, now say there is no turning back from Brexit, many are likely to be less committed to a strict interpretation of the referendum result.
Potential compromises include the UK accepting an arrangement similar to the European customs union, and continuing to give preference to migrants from the EU.
The new intake of Conservative MPs has a similar proportion of Remainers. Of the 32 Conservatives who gained their seat this month, 18 say they backed Remain and 13 say they backed Leave.
Many new Conservatives are from Scotland: of the 12 new MPs elected north of the border, only one — Ross Thomson of Aberdeen South — originally backed Brexit.
The Remain-backers include Luke Graham, the new MP for Ochil and South Perthshire who was previously the finance director of Stronger In, the official Remain campaign. Giles Watling, who took Clacton, the only seat won by the UK Independence party in 2015, also voted for Britain to stay in the EU.
A couple of prominent Brexiters have rejoined the Conservative benches: Zac Goldsmith, the millionaire environmentalist, regained the seat of Richmond Park that he lost last December to the Liberal Democrats, and Esther McVey, the former TV presenter, won George Osborne’s former seat of Tatton.
One new MP, Harborough’s Neil O’Brien, has not disclosed how he voted. He worked on a campaign against the euro in the early 2000s, and was a special adviser to George Osborne during the referendum.
A number of new Conservative MPs appear to have deleted social media posts relating to the referendum period that might reveal how they voted, while others did not express their views publicly. Lee Rowley, the new MP for North East Derbyshire, has tweeted nearly 1,000 times since joining Twitter in February 2013, but did not post any messages during the referendum campaign. Mr Rowley told the FT he voted Leave, but did not express his views on social media because he was not a candidate.
All Conservative MPs (total: 317)
Remain — 176
Leave — 138
Not disclosed — 3
New intake (total: 32)
Remain — 18
Leave — 13
Not disclosed — 1
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