According to leading MP Mark Reckless, as many as half of the 306 Conservatives, or over 150 MPs, are privately in favour of Britain withdrawing from Europe.
The remarks were made on the BBC’s Politics Show, as the MP for Rochester and Strood said that the proportion is about the same for the country as a whole.
In fact, a recent YouGov poll has reported that 52% of the general population want the UK to pull out of the European Union, while 31% want to stay in.
The comments come as 81 Conservative MPs have defied the Whip and voted in favour of a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe. Previously, David Cameron had evoked considerable anger within the Cabinet by using Parliament whips to force Conservatives to vote against motion.
The Conservatives who defied the Whip and voted for the rebel referendum are Mr. Cameron’s first real test of authority.
He is set to receive another blow, as next week MPs are expected to demand another vote when debating plans to approve the European Union’s budget.
Furthermore, there is speculation concerning backbench MPs, who could try to pressure the UK government to veto plans for new taxes that will be used to fund the £900 billion EU budget.
These tensions were heightened as Nick Clegg, deputy Prime Minister, called pulling out of the EU “economic suicide.” In his argument, retreating “to the margins of Europe” would mean Britain would give up its role as a powerful player within a hugely powerful economic alliance.
However, Tory MP George Eustice called the deputy Prime Minister “too simplistic” in his views on Europe. Eustice is also a leader of a separate group which is pushing for the repatriation of powers.
While Clegg said that retreating from the EU would be a “sure-fire way” to lose British jobs and hurt businesses, Eustice argues that Britain needs to slough off European regulations in order to get the country moving again.
The Tory leader said that Britain must “address this failing, rather than sweep it under the carpet,” and for that there must be undeniable repatriation of powers.
Eustice also said that he would support a debate concerning how to improve the European Union budget next week.
Another Tory MP who is outspoken on this issue is Andrea Leadsom, co-ordinator of a new group which will involve all parties and which seeks to reform the EU.
Tory Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt also admits that there are differences between the Conservative and Lib Dem arms of the coalition on the matter of the European Union.