Ken Clarke warns Tory leadership hopefuls against EU 'tactics'
The Tory grandee also said he would be “horrified” if any of the candidates “showed so little regard for the national interest” and campaigned for Brexit.
David Cameron has promised a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU before the end of 2017, while also confirming he will not seek a third term as Prime Minister.
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Chancellor George Osborne is seen as the current frontrunner for the job but is closely challenged by London mayor Boris Johnson – who has hinted he could back Brexit.
Mr Clarke said he feared the upcoming EU referendum would be “bashed about” in the party leadership contest, but that it would be “insanity” to choose the next leader based on their views on Europe.
In an interview with the House magazine, the Tory former chancellor said: “I’d be horrified if any of the people likely to be contenders started saying they were campaigning for ‘No’.
“It would be totally irresponsible for a leadership candidate to campaign for Out, simply for tactical advantage in a leadership election.
“Anybody who showed so little regard for the national interest should not be regarded as a serious contender.”
He added: “If we choose our next leader on the basis of the leader’s views on Europe, then we’re continuing the same insanity that’s put us out of office throughout the 2000s.
“In the choice of a leader there are many more important things than where you put them on this ridiculous scale on Europeanism.”
He warned his party that returning to “euro-wars” would leave Mr Cameron’s work getting the Tories back into office “completely thwarted because we’ll get thrown out again”.
But he argued the party would probably “hold together” over the referendum “unless people have lost all common sense”.
Nevertheless, he added: “Referendums have never settled anything.”
On the Tory leadership, the Rushcliffe MP also argued the contest would most likely be won by “some candidate that nobody had thought of” until the dying few weeks.
“I don’t remember anybody who started campaigning for the leadership a year or two before the vacancy getting anywhere near it,” he said, himself having fought to lead the party more than once in the past.
Nicky Morgan, Theresa May and Sajid Javid are also among those tipped to be seeking the top job.