The organisation – which wrecked Theresa May’s agreement, leading to Boris Johnson’s hardline EU exit – is made up of “climate change deniers” who “were quite happy to see Trump win”, a former colleague says.
The book, by the journalist Peter Geoghegan, seeks to map the transformation of the once little-known ERG into an ultra-powerful player in Conservative politics, as the Brexit fight developed.
Despite not taking a public stance at the 2016 referendum, it then campaigned for a clean break from Brussels and was instrumental in defeating Ms May’s attempts at compromise.
“It’s a corruption of Conservatism. It is rampant libertarianism. It’s the very opposite of what it means to be a Conservative,” Mr Tugendhat said.
The ERG – formed way back in 1993, to oppose closer EU integration – was attacked as a “party within a party” for its trench warfare against the former prime minister.
In the book, Mr Bebb – who joined the ERG in 2010 – describes how it was then a genuine research group examining developments in Brussels, saying: “It was pretty nerdy. Which appealed to me.”
Mr Geoghegan argues that the ERG “quickly changed shape, emerging as a vocal and highly organised opponent of a soft exit from the EU”.
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Its members started to appear frequently on television, listed as ERG spokespeople. Supporters such as Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Mr Rees-Mogg had not even been involved before the shock Leave vote.
Mr Bebb said senior Tories believed they could “get the ERG to fall into line by bringing them into government,” but added. “It simply didn’t work. It was a disaster.”
He described the group as becoming “Singapore on steroids” – advocating a low-tax, regulation-lite society – as well as being populated by “climate change deniers” relaxed about Donald Trump.
Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics by Peter Geoghegan, a journalist at the website openDemocracy, is published by Head of Zeus on Thursday 6 August.