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Recent surge in Tory membership sparks scepticism
September 03, 2018
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LONDON: As internal divisions over Brexit plague Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, a recent surge in membership has left some fearing the new recruits have ulterior motives.

The Tories have seen thousands of new members apply to join its ranks this summer, according to lawmakers and reports.

But this newfound popularity has not been welcomed by all within the centre-right bastion of British politics.

“There clearly is a movement of people joining the Conservative Party but for exactly what purpose it’s impossible to say,” Dominic Grieve, a pro-European MP, told AFP.

In his constituency in southeast England it has grown by around 100 people to 1,200 members in recent months — alongside his suspicions.

“I’m sure there’s a deselection agenda by some members of my association towards me,” he added.

“The Conservative Party’s always been a broad church and tolerant of difference. But I’m afraid at the moment we’re going through a political crisis which is reducing tolerance.”

MPs who back remaining in the European Union — so-called Remainers — suspect hardcore Brexit supporters from the right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP) are joining the Tories to remake its leadership.

Their concerns stem from businessman Arron Banks, the single largest bankroller in the 2016 EU referendum campaign, calling for the roughly 90,000 members of his Leave.EU group and its 1.4 million social media followers to join the Conservatives.

He admits wanting to ensure the party’s next leader — and therefore prime minister — is a hardliner if Theresa May is ousted amid fierce opposition to her plans for a post-Brexit “common rulebook” with the EU.

Under Conservative rules new members are able to vote in leadership contests within three months of joining.

“The best way to secure Brexit and our country’s future is via the Conservative Party,” Banks wrote in last week’s Sunday Times, noting “it is in government and, for now, calls the shots.

“A grassroots rebellion in the Tory party is possible. In the right conditions a new leader can be swept to power, and sanity can prevail. Our aim is to unite the right,” he added.

Conservatives last month rejected Banks’ own bid to join, reportedly judging he would likely bring them into disrepute.

Agence France-Presse

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