Mandelson says anti-EU Tories are threatening to 'burn down the house' unless David Cameron caves in to their demands
Tory Eurosceptics are running a "Soprano-style protection racket" in the Conservative party in which they are threatening to burn down the house unless David Cameron caves into their demands, Lord Mandelson has claimed.
As the former Tory chancellor Lord Howe warned that the prime minister is losing control of his party over Europe, Mandelson described the Eurosceptics as the "provisional wing" of the Tory party.
Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, hit back at Lord Howe. Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, he said: "I don't think those views actually represent the reality. The substance is that the Conservative party says if we are going to be successful in that global race we need to renegotiate that relationship with Europe and give the British people a say."
But Mandelson echoed Howe's warning, though he used a more dramatic analogy. He said: "We all know what's going on inside the Conservative party. The UK Isolation party and their fellow travellers in the Conservatives are sort of operating a Soprano-style protection racket inside the Conservative party. They are saying: 'Do what we want, give us what we are demanding, or we are going to burn your home down.'"
The former Northern Ireland secretary even appeared to liken the Eurosceptics to the provisional wing of the Irish republican movement. He said: "Just because one wing - the provisional wing - of the Conservative party want to bring down their leader and change their party's policy and are using this as an issue to do so is not a good reason to hold a referendum."
Mandelson, who was a close adviser to two prime ministers, offered some advice to Cameron. "Now, in my view, the prime minister has got to say: 'Enough is enough. You guys have got to clear off. Take your tanks off my lawn. I am going to lead this party and govern this country in the way that serves its true economic national interest and I am going to do so without being bullied around by a bunch of people whose only interest is to be separate from Europe, not to create the prosperity for Britain and the trade and other economic opportunities by staying within Europe and its single market.'"
Mandelson endorsed Ed Miliband's position on an EU referendum. "On this issue they are right. They are saying yes to a referendum if there is some significant change in the relationship. But no, not an in-out referendum just for the sake of having a referendum, which would be a lottery. You couldn't predict what the outcome would be."
In a sign of how the Conservative party has shifted in a Eurosceptic direction over the last 15 years, the former cabinet minister John Redwood praised Cameron as he confirmed he had offered advice ahead of his EU speech in January. Redwood, who challenged John Major for the Tory leadership in 1995 over Europe, said: "We went to the prime minister privately and helped him with the Bloomberg speech and we are very happy with his new policy. Now we wish to get on with it."
Hunt said: "If you look at the substance of the issue the Conservative party is absolutely united. We look at the EU and we worry about Britain's ability to compete in the global race. We look at the regulations and the red tape that comes from Europe … and if you go into the boardrooms in New York, or Tokyo or Singapore they think the European economy is frankly a joke."
Their interventions came after Howe lambasted Cameron over Europe. The former chancellor wrote in the Observer: "Sadly, by making it clear in January that he opposes the current terms of UK membership of the EU, the prime minister has opened a Pandora's box politically and seems to be losing control of his party in the process.
"The ratchet-effect of Euroscepticism has now gone so far that the Conservative leadership is in effect running scared of its own backbenchers, let alone Ukip, having allowed deep anti-Europeanism to infect the very soul of the party."