As many as 100 Conservative MPs are preparing to defy David Cameron with a promise to vote to leave the European Union at next year's general election regardless of what the Prime Minister can renegotiate in Brussels, it has been reported.
Tory eurosceptics will promise in their personal manifestos that they will vote to quit the EU if there is a referendum in 2017.
The pledge could be seen as further evidence of MPs lack of faith in the Prime Minister to win a favourable deal for Britain in a round of Brussels negotiations.
MP Mark Reckless told The Independent: “My election manifesto will confirm my view that we should leave the EU.”
Another MP said: “Many colleagues in marginal constituencies see an ‘out’ pledge as the only way to save their seat. ‘Outers’ in non-marginals will also make the pledge.”
The revelations could further undermine Cameron's credibility on Europe after last week's shock defection by prominent backbencher Douglas Carswell. The former Tory MP, who has resigned his Clacton seat to force a by-election during which he will stand for Ukip, said one of the reasons for his defection was that the leadership of the Conservative party was not "serious" about EU or political reform.
Conservatives in marginal seats may hope they will be spared a Ukip onslaught in 2015 if they fly their eurosceptic colours as high as possible.
The pledge to leave the EU may also remind the Prime Minister of his own pledge in 1997, when the majority of Conservative candidates opposed Britain joining the euro in their personal manifestos. Headlines of party division is the last thing the Tories need after a poll for the Mail on Sunday showed Douglas Carswell heading for a landslide win with 64 per cent of the vote.
The news made even grimmer reading for the Tories after the poll showed that even if Boris Johnson were put up againt the Clacton MP, Ukip would still win the seat with 60 per cent of the vote.