Tories again ‘ripped apart’ by tensions over Europe

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A TORY MP who backed the Government over the European Union referendum has warned the party it is heading for “self destruction” if it does not heal its rifts.

Keighley and Ilkley MP Kris Hopkins warned of his “dismay” at divisions in the party as David Cameron insisted there was “no bad blood” over the bruising rebellion which saw half of his backbenchers defy his pleas not to vote for the referendum.

As the fallout from the vote – in which the referendum was easily defeated despite 79 Tories voting for it – was digested in Westminster, divisions within the coalition burst into the open as Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said there was no chance of the Government mounting a “smash-and-grab raid” on Brussels despite Tories calling for Ministers to spell out what powers they would like taken back from Brussels.

But as Labour criticised Government “disunity” over Europe and said it was undermining Britain’s influence in discussions on the eurozone crisis, Mr Hopkins raised fears the issue could cause the Tories serious damage in the way the party “ripped themselves apart over Europe” in the 1990s.

“After 13 years in opposition, I am dismayed that after just 18 months in government, we are sitting here again with the same tension,” he told MPs.

“There is an element of self indulgence here and, if we are not careful, it will be a route to self destruction.”

Analysis of the voting lists revealed that Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew and York Outer’s Julian Sturdy both defied the Tory whip to back the referendum, along with six of the region’s Tory MPs who signed the motion calling for the vote and Dewsbury’s Simon Reevell. Labour’s Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell and Batley and Spen MP Mike Wood both defied Ed Miliband to back the referendum as well.

The Prime Minister insisted yesterday there was “no bad blood, no rancour” over the revolt, but two Tory MPs were dumped as parliamentary aides after backing the referendum.

Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove said that he wanted to see negotiations to win back powers from Brussels within the term of this Parliament. “We are already winning powers back – we need to win more and that process will require careful negotiation,” he said.

But Mr Clegg dismissed the row over the repatriation of powers as a “monumental distraction” and said there was no question of the Government mounting a “smash-and-grab raid” on Brussels.

Mr Cameron’s official spokesman acknowledged that when the Prime Minister or Mr Gove talked about repatriating powers from Brussels, they were expressing the position of the Conservative Party, and not the Government.

The official position, set out in last year’s coalition agreement, is that the Government will “examine the balance of the EU’s existing competencies”.