Tory splinter group plots to bring Britain out of EU

Reuters / Neil Hall
Over 50 Conservative lawmakers are forming a campaign to withdraw Britain from the European Union unless Prime Minister David Cameron achieves substantial changes to the UK’s relationship with Brussels.

A new political group, called Conservatives for Britain (CfB), was launched on Sunday with members saying they will support Cameron’s bid to try and get significant reform in the EU, but will push voters to reject it unless the prime minister manages to impose radical changes on the bloc.

CfB has the same upbeat view of the UK outside the EU as Business for Britain, a Eurosceptic business campaign group.

In a document setting out the CfB’s basic position, the group says it has “an optimistic, globalist view of the UK’s future” and “will discuss how to prepare for a possible out campaign.”

The Prime Minister is trying to get senior European leaders to support UK calls for significant reform ahead of an in-out UK referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, which he has promised before the end of 2017.

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The key areas in which Cameron is pushing for change include a restriction on the number of EU migrants with access to British welfare and benefits, gaining more independence from Europe for UK courts, improving the single market and safeguards to make sure countries like the UK, which are not in the Euro, are not put at an economic disadvantage by ever greater integration.

"We wish David Cameron every success, but unless senior EU officials awake to the possibility that one of the EU's largest members is serious about a fundamental change in our relationship, our recommendation to British voters seems likely to be exit," Conservative MP Steve Baker, one of the key people in CfB, wrote for The Telegraph.

"I have been struck by the dozens of Tory (Conservative) MPs who would vote to quit the EU now and who will not settle for anything less than fundamental change," Baker added.

But Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who has in the past come out with fairly strong anti-EU rhetoric, insisted that Britain could fix its relationship with EU if the desired reforms were protected by treaty change.

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"There was always going to be a group of our colleagues who wanted to come out of the European Union come what may," Hammond told the BBC’s Andrew Marr, when asked about CfB.

The CfB adds another serious organization to the anti-EU voice in the UK. On Saturday the UK Independence Party (UKIP) called for all Eurosceptic politicians from all parties to put aside personal animosities and unite to form a cohesive No Campaign against continued membership of the bloc.

Former cabinet members John Redwood and Owen Patterson are both willing to be named publicly as members of CfB.

The Prime Minister has ordered all his government ministers to support his negotiations and has also said that they would be required to campaign for a Yes vote to stay in the EU. But Owen Patterson urged Eurosceptic ministers to be ready to resign in order to support what they believed in.

“We all hope that the deal is satisfactory and will be widely accepted but if there are individuals in the Cabinet who are not happy with the deal, they should be allowed to campaign. If that is not allowed, these people - if they have got any character about them at all and are interested in the future of their country - should stand down and campaign according to their conscience," Patterson told the Sunday Telegraph.

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Rafal Trzaskowski, Poland's Minister for European Affairs, has warned in an interview with the Observer newspaper that even if the UK leaves the EU, to stay in the European free trade zone, it will still have to pay into the EU budget just like Norway and Switzerland have to. Britain would see its influence in not just the EU but in the world reduced, he believes.

“It would have no influence over the decisions yet it would have to subscribe to all the rules. London would not be that sexy a place for capital movement because it would have much looser links to Europe,” he said.

Trzaskowski also warned that the way in which the British public will vote depends very much on how the referendum is painted by political parties and the media.

It is due to be close race, with the outcome by no means certain. A recent poll by ICM put the “Yes” vote on 59 percent, while 41 percent said they wanted to leave the EU.