A backbench group of Conservative MPs have written a letter to Theresa May, calling for a complete break from EU regulations after Brexit. The move was organised by the European Research Group, or ERG, which is unbending in its opposition to remaining in the single market and customs union. However, the letter received pushback from more moderate Conservatives, including Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke, who campaigned to remain in the EU during the 2016 referendum. Use this example to show how the Tories are deeply divided ideologically and are in many ways fighting the same battles that they were in the 1990s over the Maastricht Treaty, and in the 1980s between the Thatcherite “dries” and the One Nation “wets”.
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Yet perhaps the issue of Europe has pitted not just the moderates against the New Right, but has split the New Right itself, whose two factions - neo-liberal and neo-conservative - have always sat uncomfortably alongside each other. The neo-liberals, typified by chancellor Phillip Hammond, prioiriste free markets, and see close ties to the EU, even after the UK leaves, as providing that opportunity. Yet the cultural faction with the New Right, the neo-conservatives, see Brussels as a threat to British values, and fears “otherness”, or immigration, prioristing that issue over frictionless trade.
How interesting that the EU referendum, called to unite the Conservative Party, could end up creating a permanent schism.