There’ve been claims that Number Ten, the Treasury and the Whips are doing so – not to mention local Associations  What’s the truth?  We spoke to ten Conservative MPs – two were for Leave, two for Remain, the rest undecided.

MP One

“They’ve massively overspun the European deal, which resulted in all the bad headlines last week.  I’ve not seen or experienced pressure from whips personally, maybe I’m perceived as too far gone to try with.  The current set of whips are much better at being in the tea room, and speaking to people. There are lots of jokes going round in the tearoom like: ‘Hello, have you been made envoy to Botswana or Bhutan yet?’ because that seems to be how they’re doing it, guaranteeing posts like that. I’ve not experienced it but the rumour is that that’s what they doing.”

MP Two

“The Leave campaign is in chaos, but the Remain one needs an injection of oomph – there’s a perception that its supported largely by flabby overpaid executives.  I would say that Number Ten is clearly very worried.  There’s a little bit of pressure at the moment – hints that if you will risk your career if you support Brexit – but that’s bound to crank up after this month’s summit.  But remember: this isn’t like Maastricht, where there was a Bill and votes, so the role of the Whips is different.”

MP Three

“David Cameron has a lot of credit in the bank with the 2015 intake and my experience is that the whips are staying neutral.  George Osborne is smart enough to know that direct pressure would be counter-productive – though he’s certainly making himself to anyone who wants to discuss the finer points of the renegotiation and referendum with him.  He knows the new generation of MPs very well – after all, he helped many of those in marginal seats – which the older Eurosceptics tend not to do, with the exception of Liam Fox.”

MP Four

“My estimation is that about five per cent of the Parliamentary Party is set on Remain and about 20 per cent for Leave.  But there’s another 20 per cent that’s in play for Leave because the draft deal isn’t seen as a good one.  I think that while some of the 2015 intake MPs will have difficulty with their Associations because of commitments they made on EU reform before the election, the criticism will mostly be muted.  They’ve just won their seats, have a certain amount of goodwill locally and will be given a bit of leeway.”

MP Five

“There’s a deep sense of disappointment with this deal, and some of us are consequently moving towards Leave.  There’s a lot of loyalty to Cameron in the new intake, but there is pressure from Associations the other way too.  I don’t get any sense of pressure on colleagues from Osborne, and I have spoken to quite a few of them, and he’s a busted flush in any case after tax credits.  The Whips are keeping out of it.  I think that the Prime Minister will have to produce something extra at the end of the month.”

MP Six

“Some of us are Eurosceptic by instinct and don’t much like the draft deal, but are put off backing leave by the antics of Bill Cash, Bernard Jenkin, and so on.  I don’t think there’s any sense of pressure yet, but I think that will change after the final deal.  I would say that much of my Association is for Brexit but not all of it by any means.  There’s widespread frustration about the promotion of Osborne’s mates – Matt Hancock is a joke – and he can’t possibly be the next Party leader.”

MP Seven

“It’s early days, but my impression to date is that, so far at least, we’re all sailing in the same canoe, though I’m not sure if that will hold all the way to the referendum.  I will be backing Remain.  What’s striking is that we’ve had so little contact from constituents about it, in contrast to all the rage in the papers.  I have had precisely three e-mails to date complaining about the draft deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated, and a handful of beautifully handwritten letters that haven’t been crafted by any of my constituents.”

MP Eight

“Some colleagues are certainly getting these funny envoy offers, which quite a few seem to be taking up – and there are a lot more of them around anyway.  But Osborne is no fool: he knows that come a leadership election he’ll have to appeal to those who vote for leave, and there’s no sign of pressure.  My own experience is that the whips are staying neutral: one or two may even be for Brexit.  I expect the number of Conservative MPs who come out for Brexit will be south of 100.”

MP Nine

“It’s a poor deal.  I’m not aware of any particular pressure, but no doubt there are a few raised eyebrows and you-want-to-think-carefully-about-what’s-good-for-your-career.  I would say that Associations are unhappy, and I’ve done some asking around  Mine is probably 80 per cent for Brexit but others will be differerent – they often reflect the views of their MPs.  I suppose that it could have an impact on selection if the boundary review and seat reductions go through.”

MP Ten

“The reality is that as Rees-Mogg says, this is thin gruel. It’s very poorly negotiated, and absolutely not adequate. I consider myself to be on the left wing of the Party, I have no axe to grind on the EU, but the sheer bloody-mindedness of these people even over such minute changes have pushed me into the Leave camp.” The whips attitude is ‘look, it’s a free vote, vote with your heart’ but scratch the surface and they’re saying ‘The PM will be very disappointed…this will be a snub to him.’  Cameron and Osborne are starting to lose touch with how to manage the Parliamentary Party.”

Our conclusions?

  • Not much open pressure from Downing Street now, but more expected later…
  • …As is some from local Associations the other way.
  • Whips largely neutral, a few raised eyebrows from some at Brexiteers.
  • Fear of Osborne in some quarters; dismissal in others – and a sense that he is smarter, in most cases, than simply to throw his weight around.

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