Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Which Political Parties Might Split Over the EU Referendum?

We have been promised an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union within the next sixteen months. What is the potential for splits over the issue in the main UK political parties?


The referendum was to some degree forced on David Cameron the Prime Minister by the increasing popularity of UKIP two or three years ago. Conservative Eurosceptic MPs and members panicked by UKIP electoral gains forced Cameron to concede a referendum after he negotiates some minor reforms to our membership.

So, this should be solid ground for UKIP, a clear unifying issue for the party. But it has not quite developed along those lines so far. The fiasco of UKIP leader Nigel Farage resigning then doing a U-turn within a couple days and infighting at the top of party was not a good start.

The issue for UKIP is whether Farage’s style will encourage or discourage voters to vote for our exit? The party is split on this aspect of the campaign and will no doubt rumble on in the coming months. 

However, it is such a central issue for UKIP that I find it hard to see them splitting before the referendum. Afterwards, though is another matter.

Potential split rating 2/10 (before the referendum)

Lib Dems  

Almost the mirror opposite of UKIP. I expect under new leader Tim Farron for the Lib Dems to return to the traditional slightly left of centre political ground, after the disastrous ‘Orange Booker’ experiment under Nick Clegg’s leadership. Traditionally, the most pro-EU party, I think the referendum will have a unifying affect on the Lib Dems as they start to try and re-build the party.

Potential split rating 0/10 


This is an interesting situation to watch. The SNP are firmly pro-EU because being in the EU is a mainstay of the party’s Scottish independence plan. Remember, the original idea was to adopt the Euro as currency after independence, but this had to be hastily and unconvincingly re-thought after problems in the Eurozone developed in recent years. It would, I suspect, look too risky to leave the EU and UK and if the UK as a whole votes for out of the EU, and Scots do not, there will certainly be a demand for another independence referendum. However, many of the SNP’s newer members are from the political left and I don’t think the Scottish left will be completely immune from the Eurosceptic feeling that has developed amongst the wider British left watching events in Greece.

Potential split rating 1/10

Plaid Cymru

I can’t claim to be any kind of expert on PC’s internal politics but it seems to me as though PC will want to remain in the EU for similar reasons to the SNP, that is national independence. They also do not appear to have had the same influx from the Welsh left as has happened with the SNP in Scotland.

Potential split rating 0/10

Conservative Party

A big potential for a split in the Tory party. The EU has been a divisive issue for the Tories for 30 years now. It was Edward Heath’s Tory government that took Britain into what was then the European Economic Community in 1973, but ever since the mid 1980s there has been a serious split amongst Tories over our EU membership. Eurosceptic Tories now probably out number Europhiles in the party and many sceptic MPs have been dreaming of the day they get the chance to quit the EU.

Of course the Prime Minister, David Cameron, is trying to square this circle by negotiating ‘reforms’ to our membership before the referendum, but few Tories think he will obtain anything significant from the negotiations and many will want out, including in his Cabinet. It would be a surprise if there isn’t considerable turbulence in the Tory party over this and even a split.

The only saving grace is that the Tories always seem to pull through these bouts Europhobia one way or another, but expect trouble.

Potential Split rating 7/10

Labour Party

The Labour party in the 1970s and early 1980s always had a significant minority against EU membership, Tony Benn chief amongst them. But since the late 1980s Labour has been supportive of ‘social Europe’ by and large. But as already mentioned, events in Greece have rekindled Eurosceptic feelings on the British left, and I think Labour now has some potential for a split over the issue. This will become even more likely if TTIP is endorsed by the EU, especially without an exemption for Britain’s NHS in particular.

At the moment the Eurosceptic wing of Labour is small and represented mainly by MP Kate Hoey, but as I say that could all change. Cameron’s ‘reforms’ to UK membership are also likely to increase scepticism in Labour.

Potential split rating 5/10  

Green Party

The Green party has maintained a mild Euroscepticism over the years, preferring to remain in the EU, but try to change the nature of the organisation to a more people friendly Europe, rather than for the multi-national corporations. Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP has already announced she will campaign to stay in a ‘different’ Europe, but I see no plan, credible or otherwise on how this is to be achieved.

But again, like Labour, and depending on Cameron’s reforms and the TTIP issue, many Greens could move towards an out of the EU position. I don’t really see this is a serious split issue though, given the party’s tolerance of members expressing differing views, but there is certainly more potential for a split than I would have imagined a year ago.

For my own part, a confirmed Europhile for as long as I can remember, I’m now an undecided on the issue and am thinking this over very carefully.

Potential split rating 4/10    

1 comment:

  1. I think it most unfortunate that Caroline Lucas should sit in the leadership of the same organisation as the likes of Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair, along with other neoliberals of diverse parties. What I've heard so far from the new umbrella group and its former M&S leader would almost convince me to vote the other way. In my view the Green Party should have campaigned independently for a vote to remain in the EU.