At least six Cabinet members are said to favour Britain leaving the European Union on the current terms of membership according to senior party figures. The admission follows a speech delivered by ousted ex-minister Owen Patterson, who has called for a British withdrawal from the EU.
His remarks draw a line in the sand between the two factions of the Conservative Party, and have been widely recognised as a bid to lead the “Out” campaign in a referendum on EU membership.
Foreign secretary Philip Hammond, chief whip Michael Gove and cabinet office minister Oliver Letwin have all publicly stated their belief that Britain would be better off out of the EU. Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, Chris Grayling, the justice secretary and Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland secretary are also all reported to be willing to consider an exit, according to the Guardian, while culture secretary Sajid Javid, has said that Britain has nothing to fear outside the EU.
Prime Minister David Cameron has been unwilling to commit himself to recommend that Britain withdraw from the EU if significant changes in membership terms cannot be secured, although earlier this month he was forced to concede that “simply standing here and saying, ‘I will stay in Europe, I will stick with whatever we have, come what may’ is not a plan. It is not a strategy, it will not work.”
In his speech delivered to the Business for Britain group, which is expected to take on the mantle of the Out campaign in any referendum, Paterson proposed called the EU a “political project from conception, masquerading as an economic project.
“We have now come to a fork in the road where we cannot follow the Eurozone into a more integrated political entity. As they move away from us, we should grasp the opportunity to leave the current political arrangements and negotiate a new settlement, while keeping our vital position in the single market,” he said. His solution is to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which would trigger two years of negotiations over a British exit.
Speaking to Breitbart London, Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the Bow Group said: “At least half of the Parliamentary Conservative Party and a sizeable (and increasing) proportion of Cabinet Members and Tory “big beasts” are now at the conclusion that invoking Article 50 to leave the European Union is the most viable option for a prosperous future for Britain.
“My belief is that more groundwork needs to be done in exploring alternatives in NAFTA and the Commonwealth before Article 50 is invoked, but the very fact that there is febrile competition to be seen as the leader of the Article 50 movement demonstrates the shift in mood.”
Paterson called for a much more robust case to be made for leaving the EU, arguing that, if an in-out referendum was held today, the British public would vote to stay in. He called on those who want to see Britain exit the EU to present a clear vision of a positive future outside the EU. “The establishment view will be clearly to stay within the political organisation of the EU,” he said.
He believes that invoking Article 50 will deliver a clear, orderly path to renegotiation and a possible exit, saying: “There should be a manifesto commitment to invoke Article 50 after a successful General Election. Such a commitment could be enormously attractive to uncommitted voters and would give our negotiators a very clear mandate.”
His comments have been widely seen as a bid to lead the Out campaign in the event of a referendum, and, through that role, a further bid for leadership of the Conservative Party. Should Britain vote to leave the EU, Cameron’s position as a Prime Minister who campaigned for an In vote would be untenable, handing the leader of the Out campaign an obvious platform to mount a leadership challenge. But even if Britain stays with the EU, the Out leader will draw huge support from voters and members who disagree with Cameron.
Harris-Quinney said: “After a decade of Cameron’s leadership the chasm that stretches across the centre of the Conservative Party, placing one side with UKIP and the other with the Liberal Democrats, is beyond repair. Who leads the right wing of the party further into that uncertain territory remains in question, but Paterson has emerged as the most viable candidate.
“In his speech to the Bow Group last month he laid out his future vision for a conservative Britain in 2020, which underlined the objectives of his new UK2020 think tank. He represents a return to primary colours conservatism, and combined with UKIP it could be an unstoppable force in British politics, toward an EU referendum and beyond.”