• Former chairman says Europe has been `gnawing away' at party
  • Brexit debate has pitched Conservatives against each other

Healing the split among U.K. Conservatives over European Union membership will take “a spectacular quantity of magnanimity” on the part of Prime Minister David Cameron, said the party’s former chairman, Chris Patten.

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Patten, who was Tory chairman until 1992 and went on to be governor of Hong Kong and then a European Union commissioner, told BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday that the fight between Tories in the run-up to the June 23 EU referendum risks permanent damage to the party. With the Labour opposition largely united on membership of the bloc, the battle is largely taking place within the governing party.

That’s seen senior Tories including London Mayor Boris Johnson and Justice Secretary Michael Gove arguing on the other side from Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. As the argument has heated up, those pushing for a so-called Brexit have broadened the fight from beyond the pure issue of the EU, effectively criticizing their own government’s economic, health and immigration policies.

“This is an issue that has been gnawing away at the unity, the integrity of the Conservative Party for years,” Patten said. As well as forgiveness from Cameron for ministers who have defied him, he said, reconciliation will “require the Brexit side to pull together for the country.”

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