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Blow for David Cameron as Tory MEP who brokered EU deal backs Brexit

Published 11/03/2016

David Cameron has permitted his MPs and Cabinet ministers to campaign on either side of the European Union referendum
David Cameron has permitted his MPs and Cabinet ministers to campaign on either side of the European Union referendum

The leader of the Conservative MEPs in the European Parliament - who helped broker David Cameron’s renegotiation package - has said he wants to leave the EU.

In a symbolic blow to the Mr Cameron, Syed Kamall said he believed that “on balance we could forge a better future outside” the bloc.

The top Tory in Brussels said that he thought the Prime Minister’s EU renegotiation had given the UK a “better deal” but that it was not good enough for him to stay in.

He cited wanting a fairer immigration policy for people coming to Britain outside the EU as his main reason for wanting to leave.

“After much thought, my personal decision is to vote to leave the EU; not because I think David Cameron did a bad job, but because I believe that on balance we could forge a better future outside,” he said.

Mr Kamall acted as a go-between for the Prime Minister and EU officials during exchanges over the reforms.

He made his statement on Friday morning as Boris Johnson claimed that leaving the bloc would be “win-win for all of us”.

The Mayor of London said at a speech in Kent that there were no downsides to leaving the bloc and that the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

David Cameron has permitted his MPs and Cabinet ministers to campaign on either side of the European Union referendum, which is due to take place on 23 June.

The PM secured provisions to cut EU red tape, protect the single market for non-eurozone members, and exempt Britain from “ever closer union”.

He also secured a more limited version of the four-year freeze on in-work benefits for EU migrants that he had set out to achieve.

Some Conservative eurosceptics have described the package as “thin gruel” and “watered down”, however.

Grassroots Out, one of the campaigns looking to leave the European Union, is holding a national day of action on Saturday urging voters to leave the European Union.

Tom Pursglove, the co-founder of the group, said the campaign to leave the bloc was attracting support from all corners of the political world.

“Every week more and more people are coming out to support the GO campaign to get Britain out of the EU,” he said.

“As well as having campaigners from across the political spectrum GO is attracting many people who have never been aligned to a political party but want to be a part of this vital cause of making Britain an independent and global facing country once again.”

But campaigners looking to remain in the bloc have warned that leaving could have serious negative consequences for Britain.

Richard Howitt, a Labour MEP who co-presides European Parliament's all-party Disability Rights Group, said in a speech today that disabled people could lose out from Brexit.

87,000 British disabled people were helped towards work by European-funded training last year – and would not have been so if Britain was no in the EU, he argued.

“In all the talk of 'free movement', what about the right of a wheelchair user to move freely to visit another European country?” he said.

“Discrimination doesn't stop at borders. On the table, we have a European-wide general Accessibility Act, that could further transform the lives of millions of people.

“People with disabilities will always campaign to pull down barriers.  In the European referendum, the Disability Movement should campaign against erecting new barriers.”

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister will later give a speech in Wales arguing that British farmers will be worse off outside the EU.

Mr Cameron will claim that the move will push up the cost of British beef exports by £240m a year.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna also told BBC News this morning that the Leave campaign was playing “fast and loose” with jobs that relied on EU exports.

Syed Kamall's statement in full

David Cameron has delivered a new deal for the UK and if the British people vote to remain in the EU it will be on better terms. I will continue to support this deal in Brussels and do all that I can to ensure it is duly approved by the European Parliament, where there are many people who want to be as helpful as they can towards the UK.

As the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in his address to the House “the fact that we are holding this referendum now is recognition of a growing unease at the direction in which the EU has evolved—a growing sense that Europe was pursuing a goal that Britain did not share, and that we risked being dragged into a level of political integration for which few in Britain have any appetite.”

For every Briton this referendum will come down to a careful weighing up of the negatives and positives of both cases.

After much thought, my personal decision is to vote to leave the EU; not because I think David Cameron did a bad job, but because I believe that on balance we could forge a better future outside.

Of course leaving the EU will present some challenges not least securing a new trade agreement between the UK and the European Union. But this opportunity may never come again, so I must decide what I feel will be best for my constituency of London - as a truly global city as opposed to just a European city - and for Britain in generations to come.

Those who argue that Britain will immediately transform into a nirvana after leaving the EU are giving a false promise. New trade deals will take time. Equally those who claim that we will become like North Korea - shut off from the world and its markets - are scaremongering. The British people deserve a much better level of debate than the polarised arguments we have seen from both sides this far.

A crucial deciding factor for me is immigration. I want to see a Britain where everyone can achieve their ambitions whether they come from a wealthy or poorer background. Equally, I want to see an immigration policy that is balanced and fair - where we treat everyone outside the UK equally whether they are from an EU country or not. Sadly, a fair immigration system is incompatible with our membership of the EU.

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that only by leaving the EU can we be genuinely free to put in place a fair immigration policy for ourselves.

As the son of immigrants who came from a non-EU country, this is my deeply held conviction on an issue that matters deeply to me. I have always told aspiring politicians to be true to themselves, and it would be hypocritical to ignore that advice myself in order to further my career.

My position is personal and not that of the ECR Group that I am proud to lead. The vast majority of ECR MEPs want to keep the UK in the EU, to bolster our efforts towards further reforms of the EU that will benefit the entire continent. I am proud that the UK renegotiation package could have a positive impact for all countries that remain members, but clearly there is a lot more work to do if the EU is to remain relevant in the 21st century.

I know many people including good Conservatives who have wrestled with the many issues on both sides and decided that they will vote to remain in the EU, accepting that they are not voting for the status quo but an EU where other countries will continue to pursue political integration. I respect their decision. If the British people do vote to stay in, then thanks to David Cameron, the UK will do so on better terms, something no British Prime Minister has been able to negotiate before.

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