Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said a referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the European Union is “inevitable” if members of the single currency draw closer together.
In an interview with the Spectator magazine, to be published Dec. 9, Paterson said he feared the 17 members of the euro will become “a new and very powerful country which can dominate us.” He said it would be “wholly unacceptable to have a new bloc in which we would be permanently outvoted.”
Prime Minister David Cameron is urging EU leaders to “get behind” the euro following a warning from his fiscal watchdog that the region’s debt crisis could tip Britain back into recession. Cameron said Dec. 5 that a referendum wouldn’t be necessary on any new EU treaty as long as it didn’t transfer powers from London to Brussels.
“If there was a major fundamental change in our relationship, emerging from the creation of a new bloc which would be effectively a new country from which we were excluded, then I think inevitably there would be huge pressure for a referendum,” Paterson told the Spectator. “I think there will have to be one, yes, because I think the pressure would build up.”
He added: “This isn’t going to happen immediately because these negotiations are going to take some months. But I think down the road that is inevitable.”
In today’s Times newspaper, Cameron moved to reassure members of his Conservative Party by pledging that he would block any treaty that threatened British interests, including financial services.
Euro-region countries “may well go ahead and in effect create a new country, with very central control of taxation and transfer of funds to weaker areas,” Paterson said. “But if they want to go ahead and form their new country we want to get the power to run our country back.”
He said Conservative lawmakers were very concerned about the issue of Europe. “The mood has really changed and has definitely hardened up and has to be respected,” he said.
On Oct 25, Cameron overcame the largest ever Conservative rebellion over the EU, when more than a quarter of his lawmakers voted in favor of a referendum on British membership of the bloc. Cameron won the non-binding vote with the help of the opposition Labour Party and his Liberal Democrat coalition partners.