Isabel Hardman

Exclusive: Senior Tory backbenchers to push Cameron further on Europe

Exclusive: Senior Tory backbenchers to push Cameron further on Europe
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Key eurosceptic MPs are planning to push David Cameron further on his plans for European reform next week, Coffee House has learned.

Leading members of a powerful group of right-wing Conservative MPs, who meet regularly to discuss strategy, will call on the Prime Minister to set out more detail on giving power back to Parliament and his plans for reform.

'The ECHR isn't enough,' says one source. 'We need to hear more detail from the Prime Minister and we will ask for that as soon as next week.'

The precise wording of the demand - and how it will be delivered - are still being discussed, but the rebels are keen to avoid a repeat of Bernard Jenkin's letter in January which demanded that Parliament be given the power to veto every aspect of EU law, but had less impact than hoped because its list of signatories turned out to be a bit of a mess and therefore easy for Downing Street to knock down. Other options than a letter, including an early day motion, are being considered.

The MPs believe their case will be reinforced by the presence of a number of angry eurosceptic Conservative MPs who have had a bad week in the reshuffle for one reason or another. Liam Fox and Owen Paterson are, according to many colleagues 'close to blowing up' after the former was offered a promotion below his capabilities and the latter was unceremoniously dumped from the department he loves and knows a great deal more about than most other Tories.

Few suspect that Paterson and Fox will blow up this side of the general election, but what their colleagues hope they'll do is start making comments about the sorts of reforms that David Cameron should be aiming for. Fox already does this, but his power will increase now that he appears to have set his face against the government by refusing a job. Paterson is particularly key in this given the amount of contact that he had with the European Union. Neither man needs to blow up to have an impact as even quite gentle comments about what the government needs to do in a renegotiation can quite easily be read as them increasing the pressure.

Both men are ideally placed to lead the 'Out' camp in the 2017 referendum: before the reshuffle, colleagues had already identified Fox as the man to do this and he made no effort to bat it down when it was raised on the Andrew Marr Show. But Paterson does not have some of the baggage that has put a number of eurosceptics off Fox. Some think the latter is 'tainted' while being utterly furious that the former was sacked as Environment Secretary. Paterson's views on Europe are well known and still best set out by James in this 2011 interview. He could also be a formidable leader of the 'Out' group. If either does end up in charge of that campaign, they will create the alternative centre of gravity in the party that some of their colleagues who dislike Cameron are hoping for. Both would certainly not try to stop that from happening after this week's reshuffle.