Cameron Says Calls For U.K. to Quit EU Now ‘Very Strange’Thomas Penny
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron rebuked lawmakers in his Conservative Party who have already decided that Britain should withdraw from the European Union.
Cameron said it was “very, very strange” for leading members of his party to say Britain should pull out of the 27-nation bloc before he has had a chance to change the terms of Britain’s relationship.
“The idea of throwing in the towel before the negotiation’s started I think is a very, very strange opinion,” the prime minister told reporters on an airplane to Washington for talks with U.S. President Barack Obama. “What all Conservative Cabinet ministers agree is we should be spending the next period improving the European Union and improving our relations with the EU and putting that to the British public in a referendum.”
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson and one-time Defense Secretary Michael Portillo have called for U.K. withdrawal, while Mayor of London Boris Johnson has said it would be a “shot in the arm” for British democracy. Yesterday, Education Secretary Michael Gove and Defense Secretary Philip Hammond both said they would vote to leave if asked today. Cameron has pledged a referendum on membership in 2017 if his party wins the 2015 general election.
That commitment isn’t enough for about 60 Conservative Members of Parliament, who have put their names to a parliamentary amendment expressing “regret” that no provision paving the way for a U.K. exit was included for this legislative session in the Queen’s Speech. They are seeking legislation enshrining the commitment to a referendum in law.
“What they’re doing is putting the prime minister in an impossible situation,” Malcolm Rifkind, a Conservative lawmaker and former foreign secretary, told BBC Radio 4 today. “They will have split their own party, they will cast questions over the prime minister’s authority, and indirectly, unintentionally, they will be helping the Labour Party’s prospects at the next election. That is a pretty odd tactic.”
Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, mocked a suggestion that Cameron was “relaxed” about the vote in a speech on May 11. “He’s not lying on the sofa, relaxed,” he said. “He’s hiding behind the sofa, too scared to confront his own MPs.”
If the amendment is selected for a vote by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, it will come before the chamber by May 15.
The prime minister reiterated today he is confident his government will be able to deliver reforms to the EU before the 2017 vote.
“There’s not going to be a referendum tomorrow, there is going to be a referendum before the end of 2017,” Cameron told broadcasters in Washington. “The problem with the status quo is I don’t think that the status quo in the EU is acceptable today. I want to change it, and having changed it I then want to ask the British people a very simple in/out question.”
Gove and Hammond, in separate BBC interviews, both said their position on the EU was that the U.K. should leave unless the government can secure such changes. Bookmaker William Hill Plc said today it did not believe a referendum would be held before 2019.
Cameron will meet with Obama at the White House today to encourage talks on a trade deal between the EU and U.S. as part of preparations for the Group of Eight summit the U.K. hosts next month.
Cameron has made setting up talks on a free-trade agreement between the EU and U.S. a key goal of his three-day visit. The deal would be worth 10 billion pounds ($15 billion) a year to the U.K. economy, Cameron’s office said, citing research by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, demonstrating the benefits of Britain’s EU membership.
Eliminating all tariffs on goods could save British exporters 1 billion pounds a year while an additional 9 billion pounds in benefits could come from reducing non-tariff barriers, the research cited by Cameron showed. The automotive industry could see a boost of 7 percent in total output, financial services growth of 1 percent and the chemicals sector 1.5 percent, it said.
“When times are tough, some want to put the barriers up, to look inwards, and to protect themselves from the world,” Cameron wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal published today. “But Britain and America stand for a better way. We have a precious opportunity to transform the global economy -- not by less openness and less free trade, but by more,” he said. “And we must do everything possible to seize it.”