Almost two-thirds of Tory MPs are undecided about whether the UK should stay in the European Union – but up to one in five are likely to vote for Brexit, new research suggests.
The research, published ahead of the Conservative party conference which starts on Sunday, found that opponents of membership “have a slight edge” but noted that “contrary to many people’s perceptions, the party as a whole is relatively balanced”.
The study put the lawmakers in five categories: firmly in, in-leaning, swing voters, out-leaning and firmly out.
In total 203 Tory MPs came out as swing voters, while there were 47 out-leaning MPs and 22 who were firmly out.
Just 14 MPs were firmly in, while 44 were in-leaning.
And, as this graphic below shows, breaking those figures down, backbenchers appear to be more sceptical than their cabinet and frontbench colleagues.
Pawel Swidlicki, policy analyst at Open Europe, said: “The high number of swing voter MPs underlines how important it will be for David Cameron to secure a comprehensive and ambitious reform package in order to ensure that the bulk of his party, as well as the wider public, sees any recommendation to remain within the EU as credible.
“Looking through what Tory MPs have said, opting out of ‘ever closer union’, securing safeguards for non-euro member states, changes to EU free movement rules and pro-competitiveness reforms are the most commonly cited criteria for judging the outcome of the renegotiation – individuals will place greater weight on some of these issues than others. Many know that their constituents are most concerned about immigration, so free movement is a crucial issue.”
It was essential for Cameron to make good progress in these areas during his reform negotiations, Swidlicki added.
Not only would this boost the chances of him winning his own party, it would also help maintain “party unity” after the referendum, he noted.