Europhiles get the jitters as anti-EU talk gains momentum
Ken Clarke and Ed Miliband speak up for Europe as all signs point to the Tories taking a populist right turn
THE biggest Europhile in the coalition government, Ken Clarke, Cabinet Minister without Portfolio, has warned this morning that it will be a "disaster" for Britain if it leaves the EU.
Ken's warning on the Today programme came as Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, warned that Britain risks "sleepwalking out of the EU" if the Eurosceptics take control of the Tory party.
What has caused this sudden bout of twitchiness among the Europhiles?
Answer: the prospect that David Cameron will go to Europe this week and act like Margaret Thatcher by vetoing everything in sight when the European partners seek to agree a big inflation-busting budget increase for the next few years.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, urges his old Bullingdon Club chum in his column in The Daily Telegraph this morning to don the Thatcher dress:
"It is time for David Cameron to put on that pineapple-coloured wig and powder blue suit, whirl his handbag round his head and bring it crashing to the table with the words no, non, nein, neen, nee, ne, ei and ochi, until they get the message."
The other factor which has got the Europhiles worried is that Cameron is about to confirm that he is hiring Boris's Australian election guru, Lynton Crosby, as his supremo for the Conservatives' 2015 general election campaign.
Crosby is notorious for having masterminded one of the most right-wing election campaigns in living memory - in 2005 when Michael Howard was Tory leader. They ran a 'Save the Pound' campaign and called for strict curbs on immigrants.
Crosby's appointment will confirm the worst fears of some modernisers in the party who believe it will signal a lurch to the right to stop the rot after the humiliation of losing the Corby by-election. They have already warned that by hiring Crosby, Cameron is kissing goodbye to his modernising instincts.
Crosby is at heart a populist. He is certain to push Cameron to make lower taxes, immigration and a referendum on the future of Britain's role in Europe the focus of the Tories' 2015 campaign.
Today, David Davis, another right-winger, who has chosen to stay outside the Tory tent after losing the leadership race to Cameron, will repeat the demands for a referendum on Europe.
The big difference between Davis and the Tory high command is that he wants it before the next general election. And the big increase in votes for UKIP in Corby – not to mention the Observer poll showing 56 per cent of British voters are in favour of quitting the EU - suggests that many former Tory voters agree with him.
To hold their line, Cameron and Crosby could be forced to concede the UKIP demand for an 'in or out' referendum on Europe after the general election. That could allow an election pact, under which UKIP would agree not to stand in seats where they would split the Tory vote.
Whatever happens in Brussels this week, Crosby is going to make sure that Ed Miliband will be proved hopelessly wrong in his rhetoric. There is no question of the Tories sleepwalking out of Europe – on present form, they could be shouting it from the rooftops. Wheteher David Cameron, who personally favours Britain remaining in Europe, likes it or not.