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After a bitter referendum campaign which featured much blue-on-blue infighting, the Conservatives now face a leadership contest to choose the next Prime Minister. Some of the candidates have spoken of the need to unite the party after decades of division over Europe. Stephen Crabb has been the most pleading, urging the party to move beyond the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’. He reckons that failure to do so risks splitting the party. Theresa May has also said that she wants to bring the leave and remain sides together.

However, the evidence so far from the leadership contest suggests that the Parliamentary Party is still divided over Europe. With around 60% of Conservative MPs so far making a public declaration of support for a leadership candidate, it appears MPs are largely split along referendum lines. The table below illustrates this. The two candidates who endorsed Remain  (May and Crabb) largely derive their support from Remain MPs whilst the majority of support for the three Leave candidates (Leadsom, Fox and Gove) comes from Leave MPs. The best example of this trend is Andrea Leadsom who has gained almost 90% of her support from leave MPs, including prominent Eurosceptics such as Bill Cash and Andrew Rosindell. She has also gained the support of the Leave.Eu campaign group. Michael Gove has the most diverse supporters, however. Over 40% of his supporters endorsed Remain. And in absolute numbers Theresa May has been the most successful in attracting the other side of the referendum debate to her campaign.

Here are the numbers so far.

The referendum stance of MPs supporting the different leadership candidates:

  Remain candidates Leave candiates
  Theresa May (n =112*) Stephen Crabb

(n =21)

Michael Gove

(n = 26)

Andrea Leadsom  

(n =24)

Liam Fox

(n = 9)

Remain 92 (82%) 18 (82%) 11 (42%) 4   (11%) 2 (22%)
Leave 18 (16%) 4   (18%) 15  (58%) 31 (89%) 7 (78%)

Source for MPs support of leadership candidates: Guido Fawkes and Conservative Home.

* Two Theresa May supported did not declare a position in the referendum campaign

This divide in candidate support base is perhaps unsurprising as issues surrounding Article 50 and withdrawal negotiations are expected to dominate the campaigns. As Conservative MPs divided roughly 60/40 for Remain on the referendum it seems likely that the ballot of Conservative members will see a Remain candidate against a Leave candidate. In such an event it will be interesting to see if the largely Eurosceptic grassroots party proves too great an obstacle for the Remain candidate.



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