Monthsnotyears Graphic on right shows the correspondence with David Heathcoat Amory MP and William Hague in which the Shadow Foreign Secretary promises an exit that will take months not years.  Click image to enlarge >>>

A large number of Europhiles attended yesterday’s ceremony to sign ‘The 2009 Declaration’.  Sceptics were notable for their absence.  Ken Clarke sat in the front row.  David Curry and Ian Taylor sat behind a row of journalists.  They – rather than the sceptics – are much happier at the ‘delayed fulfilment’ of David Cameron’s EPP pledge.  One aide to a Europhile MP told me that he was confident that Conservative MEPs would never leave the EPP.  I paraphrase…

"In six months we have persuaded the leader to abandon his ‘months, not years’ pledge… William Hague used the cover of the outcome of the Czech election results to abandon that pledge… There are likely to be plenty of bigger ‘events’ in the next three years that can be used to wriggle out of the new pledge."

Eurosceptic MEPs tempted to leave the EPP now have been warned that they will lose the party whip.  The Times does not expect a major rebellion.  One Eurosceptic MEP, Geoffrey van Orden said “I am not happy, but I recognise the reality of the situation.”  Another, Nirj Deva, said: “I am deeply disappointed but I will just have to be patient.”  That’s the view of The Telegraph’s David Rennie, too:

"This afternoon it is proving hard to get a quick answer out of the MEPs who wrote to David Cameron last month, hinting they might simply walk away from the EPP if they did not get a binding commitment that a new group would be in existence by September.  One of them has just told me that he is disappointed about a 2009 date, but can live with it, and certainly has no intention of leaving the EPP and sitting on the independent benches, better known as the home of fringe extremists like Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French National Front leader."

Team Cameron will be delighted at the way they have defused a potentially explosive row.  The EPP issue was David Cameron’s hottest potato and there will be some quiet satisfaction within the leader’s circle at the way the last 24 hours have gone.  Early yesterday morning the leader and his team started working the phones.  Key Eurosceptics, EU enthusiasts and leading figures of the party were given special pre-briefings.  William Hague gave his interview to this site.  At 9.30am David Cameron gave what was widely reported as an "assured" performance to MPs.  He was speaking at a meeting that – almost without precedent – was chaired by the Chief Whip rather than the Chairman of the 1922 backbench committee.  The Chief Whip, in charge of calling speakers, carefully ensured the first MPs to speak at the meeting were supportive of the leader.  This morning’s Telegraph, as would be expected, is disappointed at the delay to the pledge but The Daily Mail is supportive (see frontpage newslinks).  There may be some flak in the Sunday newspapers but Team Cameron have good reason to believe that Labour and Lord Levy have much more to worry about…