Published On: Wed, Sep 4th, 2019

Tory Brexit chaos: How EU has torn Boris Johnson's party inside out for FORTY years


Mr Johnson is facing a pivotal moment in his premiership despite only moving into Downing Street in July. Last night, he announced in the Commons that he would bring forward a motion for an early general election after lawmakers “cut his legs off” by scuppering the prospect of a no deal Brexit. His position could worsen further as MPs can bring a bill forward today seeking to delay Britain’s departure from the EU and he could even see his election plans ruined. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made it clear his party would not back a popular vote unless and until a bill categorically ruling out a no deal Brexit is passed. However, Mr Johnson is certainly not the first – and probably not the last – Tory leader to see Britain’s relationship with the EU muddy the waters of his role.

Margaret Thatcher led the party from 1975 to 1990 and served as Prime Minister for 11 years after winning her first of three general elections in 1979. 

However, it was arguably Britain’s relationship with the EEC – the precursor the EU – that ultimately brought her premiership to an end. 

Mrs Thatcher was steadfast against joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) but, in 1989, she was put under huge pressure from ministers like Nigel Lawson, Geoffrey Howe and John Major to go against her gut feeling. 

The three ministers all threatened to resign if Mrs Thatcher did not sign up to the ERM – a system used to reduce exchange rate variability to prepare national currencies for the introduction of the euro.

Eventually she backed down knowing she would lose the support of her Cabinet without doing so and, in October 1990, Britain joined. 

The row eventually led to Mr Howe’s infamously damning resignation speech on November 1, 1990, in which he likened the Government’s negotiations in the EEC to cricket. 

He argued: “It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.”

His dramatic exit paved the way for Michael Heseltine’s leadership challenge and she was ousted less than a month later – on November 28, 1990. 

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Opposition to Maastricht formed a hard-line eurosceptic Tory faction in the Commons infamously dubbed “b******s” by Sir John. 

A Tory civil war followed and ultimately brought the party crashing down in a crushing 1997 general election defeat. 

Tony Blair, who was there to capitalise on the fragility, has often claimed Tory division on the EU was an easy weapon for the Labour Party during his time in Downing Street. 

Divisions over EU policy continued to blight the party during their 13 years in opposition until the next Tory Prime Minister after Sir John, David Cameron, initially enjoyed relative freedom on the subject. 

Mr Cameron famously told party members to “stop banging on about Europe” before forming a coalition with the Lib Dems after the 2010 general election. 

However, ultimately, it was exactly this issue that spelled the end of his political career when he gambled on an in/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2016. 

He fiercely campaigned for Remain – but when Leave won convincingly with 52 percent of the vote and the largest electoral mandate in British history, he had no choice but to fall on his sword. 

Somewhat inevitably his successor, Theresa May, also saw EU policy dominate her premiership. 



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