Leader of the Commons refuses to rule out voting to leave the EU and suggests party could split if referendum poorly handled
The Leader of the House of Commons refused to rule out voting to leave the EU and said the country’s current membership was against the “national interest”.
He also appeared to suggest the Conservatives could split over Europe, warning that the party had to be “very careful” that its “long-term future” was not hurt by the referendum campaign.
It comes amid claims Number 10 has been attempting to silence senior figures from discussing Europe at the Tory conference – reports sources dispute.
Speaking at a fringe event by Eurosceptic campaign group Business for Britain, Mr Grayling said he “passionately” backed the renegotiation process and awaited the outcome before deciding his position.
However he said he had “no bones” about saying he was on the Eurosceptic wing of the party and failed to rule out voting to leave the EU.
Asked if “leaving the European Union hold any fear you”, Mr Grayling replied: “If the British people decide to leave, then we leave. This is a strong country and we will prosper whatever the situation is.”
He also appeared to suggest that the Conservatives could face a split if it handled the referendum campaign incorrectly.
Mr Grayling said there were “lessons to learn” from the Scottish independence referendum – when Labour saw a dramatic drop in support after a narrow No vote after campaigning alongside the Conservatives.
“We need to be watchful to make sure that as a party our long-term future isn’t impacted by the referendum process. We’ve got to be very cautious and careful about that,” Mr Grayling said.
“I also think that we need to recognise that we have different opinions in our party. There are people who will want to leave, there are people who will want to stay, there are people who will be unsure until they see the results of the negotiation.
“We have another small matter to take into account and that is the change in the Labour Party. We cannot possibly let the Labour Party get anywhere near government in 2020 in its current form.”
Asked if he would vote to leave the EU, Mr Grayling said:” I’ve made no bones about the fact that I sit on the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party, but I really, passionately believe that renegotiation’s important.
“Because I really believe that we have to have that choice between leaving an EU deal and not between leaving the status quo.”