Senior Tory MP brands European Research Group a ‘corruption of Conservatism’

(left to right) ERG members Owen Paterson, Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, Mark Francois and Steve B

(left to right) ERG members Owen Paterson, Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, Mark Francois and Steve Baker in Whitehall. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A senior Tory MP has slammed the European Research Group (ERG) as a group which acts as the 'very opposition' of what it means to be Conservative.

Tom Tugendhat, a Tory MP and chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, criticised the group - which is now led by Mark Francois.

He told Peter Geoghegan in his new book 'Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics' that it was a 'corruption of Conservatism'.

He explained: 'It is rampant libertarianism. It's the very opposite of what it means to be a Conservative'.

Despite not taking a stance in the 2016 EU referendum in public, the group campaigned for a 'clean break' from Brussels and appeared to pull the strings on Theresa May's leadership as she tried to negotiate a Brexit deal.

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At the time former Tory MP Anna Soubry said that Jacob Rees-Mogg was 'running our country. Theresa May is no longer in charge'.

Guto Bebb, who was a former Tory minister until he stood down in December 2019, said the group which was founded in 1993 to campaign against closer ties with Europe had 'morphed into a no-deal Brexit sect'.

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Bebb defended joining the group in 2010 saying it was genuinely about research. He said: 'It was pretty nerdy. Which appealed to me.'

But he said it quickly became 'Singapore on steroids' by advocating a low-tax regulation-lite society, with the group packed with 'climate change deniers' who 'were quite happy to see Trump win'.

He noted that the Tories believed they could 'get the ERG to fall into line by bringing them into government,'.

But he added: 'It simply didn't work. It was a disaster.'

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