Conservative lawmakers urged Prime Minister David Cameron to protect the U.K.’s financial-services industry and fight back against European Union efforts to “steal” business from British clearinghouses.
Speaking two days before Cameron makes a keynote speech on Britain’s relationship with the EU, the lawmakers, who call themselves the Fresh Start Project and represent mainstream Tory opinion, said the premier must renegotiate the terms of Britain’s affiliation to the 27-nation bloc. Cameron has signaled he supports putting the outcome of such talks to a popular vote after the 2015 general election, with the government arguing to stay in.
“We want Britain to remain in the EU,” the group’s chairwoman, Andrea Leadsom, told reporters in Parliament in London. “But the status quo in terms of ever-encroaching rules and bureaucracy -- that must stop.”
In their “Manifesto for Change,” published today, the lawmakers urged Cameron to focus his efforts on “a robust but achievable renegotiation of our terms of membership.” It highlighted a “demand” by the European Central Bank that U.K.- based clearing houses “establish themselves inside the euro zone to be allowed to clear transactions in euros.”
“That’s blatantly stealing Britain’s business,” Leadsom said. “It’s got nothing to do with the single market.”
Unlike some other Tory lawmakers, the Fresh Start group doesn’t call for full British withdrawal from the EU, instead arguing for a “new and different relationship for ourselves whilst remaining a full member of the EU.”
Speaking at his weekly question-and-answer session in the House of Commons, Cameron warned against refusing to address the issue. He said an stay-or-leave referendum, as demanded by euroskeptic Tories, would offer a “false choice” to the British people and pledged to work for voters’ interests.
“What can I do to maximize my national interest?” Cameron said. “That’s what the Germans will do, that’s what the Spanish will do, that’s what the British will do.”
The leader of the Labour opposition, Ed Miliband, said Cameron has “lost control” of his party over Europe. Tories will fight among themselves once they hear Cameron’s speech and the uncertainty will affect British business, he said.
“Five years of business seeing a ‘Closed for Business’ sign hanging around Britain,” Miliband told the premier in Parliament. “He thinks his problems on Europe will end on Friday; the truth is they are just beginning.”
Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen appealed today for the U.K. to remain part of the bloc.
“The EU without Britain is pretty much the same as fish without chips,” Katainen told reporters in Brussels. “It’s not a meal anymore.”
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny told reporters in Strasbourg, France, that a U.K. exit would be “catastrophic.”
Germany wants the U.K. to be an “active and committed” member of the EU, government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin.
Citing a review of possible repatriation of powers by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Leadsom suggested this path could be taken by other member states.
The manifesto calls for an “emergency brake” for all member states on financial-services issues alongside repatriation of powers on social and employment law. It also seeks a U.K. opt-out from all EU policing and criminal-justice measures and a new legal safeguard for the single market.
The Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament should be abolished on cost grounds and the legislature located permanently in Brussels, the lawmakers said.
Foreign Secretary William Hague, writing in the foreword of the document, called it a “well-researched and well-considered document full of powerful ideas for Britain’s future in Europe.”
“Many of the proposals are already government policy, some could well become future government or Conservative Party policy and some may require further thought,” Hague wrote.
About 120 of the Tories’ 303 lawmakers attended Fresh Start’s first meeting late last year.
“My view is that Britain is better off in the European Union, but I think it is right for us to see the changes taking place in Europe and to make sure that we are arguing for the changes that Britain needs, so that therefore we have a better relationship between Britain and Europe, we have a better-organized European Union and we have the full-hearted consent of the British people,” Cameron told lawmakers today.
-- With assistance from Dara Doyle in Dublin, James G. Neuger in Brussels and Brian Parkin in Berlin. Editors: Eddie Buckle, Andrew Atkinson