Conservative divisions over Europe resurfaced after a senior figure called for the party to form an electoral pact with the UK Independence Party (Ukip) at the next general election.
The turmoil came amid increasing evidence that the British public is turning against the European Union. A ComRes survey found that a majority of people (54pc) wanted Britain to leave the EU provided it could keep its close trade relationship with the bloc, while 36pc disagreed.
The finding would suggest that the Eurosceptics who want the UK to withdraw from the EU might be able to win an "in/out" referendum if they could persuade the public that trade ties with the other 26 EU members would not be damaged.
On the otherhand, the Pro-EU campaigners claim Britain would have little say over trade rules if it left.
The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, dismissed the proposal by Michael Fabricant, a Tory vice-chairman, for an electoral pact with the Tories.
Mr Fabricant provoked uproar by suggesting that Ukip could step aside at the next election in return for a promise by the prime minister to hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership.
Mr Farage insisted his party was "at war" with the Tories, declaring that he could not even contemplate speaking to them while Mr Cameron was leader because he had broken a previous promise to hold a Europe referendum.
The Conservatives "categorically" ruled out any prospect of a deal. Grant Shapps, the Tory chairman, said: "I want to win the next election outright of course for the Conservatives so that . . . (we) don't have to be in coalition."
Meanwhile a senior Tory spokesman said: "Michael Fabricant does a great job campaigning in by-elections but he doesn't speak for the party on this issue."
"The safest way to protect Britain's interest in Europe is to vote Conservative. That's why we'll have Conservative candidates in every seat at the next election," the spokesman said.
But Mr Fabricant did win the support of fellow Conservative MP Stewart Jackson, who warned that Ukip could do "very serious damage" to the Tory party at the ballot box.
He called on Mr Cameron to "show real leadership" by calling a referendum on EU membership alongside the next general election.
However according to ComRes, the UK is evenly divided on whether Britain should remain a full member of the EU.
Some 46pc agree, while 45pc disagree.
While a further 7pc of people who voted Conservative at the 2010 election now support Ukip, as do 3pc of those who voted Labour last time out.
(© Independent News Service)