20th Mar 2018

Eurosceptic MPs put Cameron under pressure

  • Cameron: "I think we are better off standing together with our allies and partners in a reformed Europe." (Photo: The Prime Minister's Office)

British prime minister David Cameron came under pressure from eurosceptic ministers as he returned from an EU summit where no real progress was made on his reform demands before the UK’s In/Out referendum.

Liam Fox, a former defence minister in Cameron’s cabinet, said “it is time to end the pretence” that “Europe is coming in our direction” and announced he will campaign for Britain to leave the EU.

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The most senior conservative backbencher MP, Graham Brady, called on the prime minister to allow his cabinet “to differ” and for ministers to campaign for a British exit if they believe that’s the right thing to do.

“There are clearly opposing opinions around the cabinet table,” Brady wrote in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday.

“Many of the senior ministers sitting there have campaigned all their political lives to return powers to Britain from the EU. There are deeply held views - on both sides - which cannot be reconciled,” he noted.

Brady, who chairs the main parliamentary Conservative committtee, warned Cameron that "to try and force members of the cabinet to ignore their convictions would be a catastrophic mistake.”

Referring to Cameron’s recent tour of EU states, Fox, on Sunday, in an opinion article published in the Sunday Times, said Cameron was “forced to take the political begging bowl around European capitals.”

This is “the best possible demonstration of the problem” of the UK being part of the EU, he added.

“There will be no substantive change in Britain’s relationship with an institution that has an unacceptable ability to impose laws upon us,” Fox said.

Using an argument popular with supporters of a British exit from the EU, he added: “Ultimately, for me, it boils down to a simple question of sovereignty. It is time for the people of Britain to have the same ability to shape our laws as they do in Canada, America, or Australia.”

“It is time for us to recover our birthright.”

Fox, the most senior past or present member of Cameron's cabinet to call for Brexit so far, published his article after Cameron said he hoped to settle the issue of the UK's EU membership terms in the new year.

"I believe that 2016 will be the year we achieve something really vital, fundamentally changing the UK's relationship with the EU and finally addressing the concerns of the British people about our membership," he said after the EU summit on Friday (18 December).

EU leaders listened to the British PM on Thursday and decided to "work closely together to find mutually satisfactory solutions" at another EU summit in Februrary.

A referendum on EU membership could be organised in Britain in June or September.

According to the latest poll, published by the Daily Telegraph just before the summit last week, 47 percent of Britons woould vote to leave the EU, with 38 percent voting to stay and 14 percent undecided.

One of the most difficult constituencies for Cameron will be his own conservative electorate.

Brady and Fox's articles also demonstrated that Cameron will have to convince his own party.

Steve Baker, a leader of the eurosceptic Conservatives for Britain campaign group, said that more than half of the Conservative party “is strongly leaning to leave.”

“What I have seen over the last few weeks is that colleagues are substantially hardening up ... and saying this deal just isn't good enough,” Baker told Sky News on Sunday.

As battlelines are being drawn between Tories, it was known during the weekend that Cameron's office is already preparing a document to make the case for Britain staying in the UK.

The Daily Telegraph said Downing Street plans to publish a pamphlet to explain “the changes, the benefits of the changes to Britain, and why therefore we need to stay in the EU.”

Cameron himself, at his Brussels press conference on Friday, anticipated a campaign to stay in the EU.

“I think we are better off standing together with our allies and partners in a reformed Europe,” he said, citing as reasons “the terrorist and the security threat that we face…. the situation brought by what Russia's done in Ukraine… the instability in the Middle-East.”

Cameron also warned that he does not see the February summit as a deadline for a deal with his EU partners.

“This is not about artificial timetables and deadlines. There's plenty of time to get the substance the British people need," he said.

Member states gain time in UK talks

British prime minister David Cameron and his partners vowed to find "mutually satisfactory solutions" to keep Britain in the EU but laid out no clear roadmap.

UK talks: Cameron 'will have to face reality'

The British prime minister is to present his demands for EU reforms to the other leaders. Cuts in benefits for EU citizens and treaty change will face strong opposition.

British ministers can campaign for EU exit

Prime minister David Cameron said eurosceptic cabinet members will be freed from collective responsibility, and that he would not resign if defeated at the EU referendum.

Cameron asks Germans to help keep Britain in EU

The British prime minister appeals to Germans to help achieve his proposed changes to the European Union that would help keep Britain in the bloc, and said he is not challenging the freedom of movement.


Euroscepticism: The EU's new normal

EU citizens have fallen out of love with the Union, a study suggests. The only way through the current malaise may be to dismantle some of the EU's pet projects - not least the euro itself.


The populists may have won, but Italy won't leave the euro

The situation as Rome tries to form a government is turbulent and unpredictable. However, the most extreme eurosceptic policies floated during the election campaign are unlikely to happen - not least due to the precarious state of the Italian banks.


Why has central Europe turned so eurosceptic?

Faced with poorer infrastructure, dual food standards and what can seem like hectoring from western Europe it is not surprising some central and eastern European member states are rebelling.

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