When the Prime Minister presented the draft EU deal to the House, earlier this month, Paul carried out an instructive analysis of the responses from Tory MPs – by view and by parliamentary generation.
Now that the final agreement has been confirmed, it’s time to see how yesterday’s Hansard record compares to the previous outing.
In all, 55 Conservative MPs contributed to the debate. Four asked questions that were neutral in tone and topic, leaving 51 who settled on either the Remain or Leave sides to some degree.
Twenty-four Tory contributions were either implicitly, broadly or very critical of the Prime Minister’s position – those from Sir Bill Cash, Boris Johnson, Nadine Dorries, Owen Paterson, John Redwood, Liam Fox, David Davis, Anne Main, Peter Lilley, Bernard Jenkin, Steve Baker, Philip Davies, Sir Edward Leigh, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Andrew Tyrie, Sir Gerald Howarth, John Baron, David Jones, Peter Bone, Henry Smith, Chris Chope, Jason McCartney, David Burrowes and Richard Drax.
The remaining 27 questions were either implicitly, broadly or very supportive of Cameron’s case – those from Ken Clarke, Mark Pritchard, Sir Eric Pickles, Sir Alan Haslehurst, Maria Miller, Sir Roger Gale, Damian Green, Sir Oliver Heald, Nick Herbert, Neil Carmichael, Jeremy Quin, Stephen Hammond, Bob Neill, Ben Howlett, Robin Walker, James Morris, Simon Hoare, David Tredinnick, Alec Shelbrooke, Chris White, David Morris, Steve Brine, Mark Spencer, Richard Graham, James Cartlidge, Jeremy Lefroy and Alberto Costa.
This means that the balance of the debate in the Commons was more supportive than when the Prime Minister presented the draft – despite the sizeable increase in numbers of Conservative MPs publicly supporting a Leave vote. The debate itself – on the Conservative side, at least – divided broadly into two halves, with Leavers making up 22 of the first 32 Tory contributors, and Remainers contributing 18 of the final 23.
The generational pattern also has a tale to tell.
Where last time there were nine contributions from the 2015 intake, split just about equally, this time there were only five - Quin, Howlett, Hoare, Cartlidge and Costa - all of whom supported the Prime Minister.
Among the 15 members of the 2010 intake who spoke – Baker, Rees-Mogg, Smith, McCartney, Drax, Carmichael, Walker, Morris, Shelbrooke, White, Morris, Brine, Spencer, Graham and Lefroy – the proportion of critics rose to a third, but there was still a preponderance of voices supporting the Prime Minister.
The 31 MPs who first entered Parliament in 2005 or before - Clarke, Haslehurst, Lilley, Gale, Leigh, Howarth, Chope, Cash, Redwood, Davis, Tredinnick, Fox, Pickles, Jenkin, Heald, Paterson, Green, Tyrie, Johnson, Baron, Dorries, Pritchard, Main, Miller, Davies, Herbert, Jones, Bone, Hammond, Burrowes and Neill – were yet again the most Eurosceptic cohort. Twelve were supportive of the Prime Minister to some degree, while 19 were broadly critical. The critics included many whom one would expect to see in such a list, but there are also new additions like Tyrie, who brings both clout and expertise to the table, and, of course, Boris.
Yet again the debate reflected the generational shift that we have noted previously, by which we can see the influence of a decade of Cameron leadership making the Parliamentary Party more Cameroon. But if anything it failed to reflect the growth in declared Leave supporters since the last debate - perhaps because some Leavers wish only to declare their position rather than to campaign, perhaps because some would prefer not to criticise their Leader in the Chamber, and perhaps because a proportion of the new Leave recruits are on the Government payroll and therefore left the debate to backbenchers.
A final note on the focus of the critical questions: namely, that there didn’t seem to be one. The Prime Minister was asked about security, migration, the Eurozone, the legal weight of the renegotiation and various other topics, but each appeared to be a solo sally forth, probing for a weakness or a fatal admission. There wasn’t much sign of a forensic and sustained assault on any particular weak spot in his armour – thus far, at least.