The Conservatives were gripped by a bitter war of words over EU membership as pro-Europeans in the party began a fightback against Eurosceptics, warning a vote for Britain to leave the EU would be a “jump into a void”.
Former chancellor Lord Lawson, who backs withdrawal, dismissed David Cameron’s attempts at re-negotiationg the UK’s EU membership terms as “inconsequential” as Tory divisions over Europe continued to escalate.
The row came as former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said he hopes the “millions of people who don’t really care” very much about Britain’s membership of the EU will vote for the country to keep it.
A poll also showed that Scotland would vote for independence if the UK decides to leave the European Union in the In-Out referendum.
People in Scotland are overwhelmingly against an EU exit, by 65 per cent to 35 per cent, in contrast to people in England who are narrowly in favour by 53 per cent to 47 per cent, a Panelbase poll indicated. England’s population is so big that the No to EU campaign has to win by just 1 per cent there to outvote people in Scotland, the polling suggested.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has put a vote to leave the EU against Scotland’s will at the top of her list of shifting political circumstances which could trigger a second independence referendum.
She would have the backing of 54 per cent for another referendum if the UK votes to leave the EU, the poll of 1,053 voters in Scotland and 1,034 adults in England and Wales suggests.
And the Yes to independence campaign would win with 52 per cent – up seven points on the 45 per cent who voted Yes in 2014 and five points on the 47 per cent who say they would vote for independence anyway.
Meanwhile, former minister Nick Herbert – who led the campaign to keep Britain out of the euro 15 years ago – has launched the new Conservatives for Reform in Europe group to make the case for Britain to stay in.
Mr Cameron has said ministers will be free to campaign on either side in the referendum – but only after he has completed his re-negotiation of British membership terms which is expected to come to a head at a Brussels summit in February.
Mr Herbert said: “Leaving without the first idea of what we might get instead would be to jump into a void. What matters most to the British people is their jobs and security, living standards and public services.”
However, Mr Herbert’s comments were dismissed as “complete nonsense” by his fellow Tory Lord Lawson.