David Cameron’s hopes of limiting the number of Conservative MPs who support a British exit from the European Union were dealt a blow on Tuesday after the influential backbencher Dr Sarah Wollaston stated that her clear preference was for a withdrawal from the union.
Wollaston, who has carved out a distinctive national profile since her election in the wake of being chosen as a Tory candidate in Britain’s first full open primary selection in 2009, said she had always been a Europhile and would not have imagined voting to leave the EU before becoming an MP.
“So why am I heading towards the door? I am in love with the possibilities of the EU but can no longer ignore the grinding reality of the institution,” she wrote in a blog post.
The MP for Totnes, a former GP and centrist on a range of domestic policy matters, had still been considered in some quarters as a waverer despite describing the prime minister’s draft renegotiation deal as “grudging” and “threadbare”, as it was debated in the House of Commons last week.
She used the same terms on Tuesday in her blog to describe the proposed new deal with Brussels, adding: “Apart from a small concession on sham marriages, the truth is that the proposals will have no significant impact on our ability to limit inward migration from the EU.
“They will however, usher in rafts of bureaucratic cost and complexity with sliding scales for length of residency and nationality for child benefit.”
Wollaston said Cameron was right to state that the EU would need further reform, but added: “If this is the best that can be grudgingly conceded when there is a serious risk of a British exit, what chance of any meaningful further reform if and when we are tied-in long term by the referendum?”
Two-thirds of Conservative MPs now support Britain’s exit from the EU, despite David Cameron’s clear preference for staying in, according to senior sources within the party.
Wollaston sounded a call for feuding Brexit campaigners to get their house in order, adding that referendums had a habit of delivering the status quo. She said: “If they are to have any hope of persuading the undecideds, the leave campaigns must settle their differences and inspire.”
On Monday, Wollaston appeared incensed by suggestions from the prime minister that a vote to leave would give France the chance to “tear up” the deal which lets UK border guards check passports at Calais.
This article was written by Ben Quinn, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 10th February 2016 00.15 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010