The rift down the middle of the Conservative Party has never been more evident than at the penultimate Prime Minister’s Questions before the EU referendum, as David Cameron fielded attack after attack from his own Eurosceptic backbenchers.
The Prime Minister may feel he got off lightly in his initial grilling from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as the very next question came in the form of a personal barb from Tory MP Richard Drax.
Mr Drax accused his leader of failing to secure any treaty change in his EU deal renegotiation and then, extraordinarily, demanded Mr Cameron “stop denigrating our great country, because it is a sign if any was needed that he is losing the argument”.
Later in proceedings Peter Bone, another Conservative, threatened to “descend on” the Prime Minister’s own constituency with a force of Leave campaigners – and even questioned whether Mr Cameron will be in his position for much longer.
Mr Bone said: “What the Prime Minister has said today on Europe is right – we have to go and campaign. But I remember what you [the Speaker] have said today about notifying members if we want to go to their constituency, so can I say to the Prime Minister, a group of global-looking Leave campaigners will be descending on Witney at lunchtime this Sunday.
“I will be there, and will the Prime minister be able to join us? And given what he’s just said, if the country votes to leave will he be able to stay on as Prime Minister and negotiate the exit?”
In another acrimonious exchange, the Tory MP for Basildon John Baron said Mr Cameron and the Remain campaign had “fudged” the issue of how Britain cannot control immigration from within the EU which, he said, “discriminates” against those wanted to come to the UK from the rest of the world.
Mr Cameron replied angrily: “I spent my evening yesterday with Mr Farage or ‘Farridge’ as I like to call him, I’m confused about what it is the Leave camp actually want when it comes to immigration.
“I thought they wanted less immigration, but now it seems they want more people from outside the EU to come into our country.”
And though he was more measured in his approach, the former Conservative minister Liam Fox used his question to suggest the Prime Minister might not be willing to accept the result of the referendum if it does not go his way.
Dr Fox urged Mr Cameron to accept that “remain would mean remain, and leave would mean leave”, adding that any attempt to “distort the verdict of the British people would be a democratic outrage”.
The Prime Minister said he would “treat the decision as an instruction to deliver”.
For his own part, Mr Corbyn tried to pin the Prime Minister down on the working practices at Sports Direct, linking the issue to EU protections on workers’ rights that could be lost if Britain votes out.
But even in doing so, the Labour leader couldn’t help but raise another point of Tory division – asking whether Eurosceptic employment minister Priti Patel truly speaks for the government.
There are now just two weeks to go until the vote on Britain’s future in the EU – and for the Prime Minister, it seems the 23 June cannot come quick enough.
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