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50 Tories 'set to lead EU exit bid'

Published 06/06/2015

Ukip leader Nigel Farage has urged his supporters to seize their opportunity over the EU vote
Ukip leader Nigel Farage has urged his supporters to seize their opportunity over the EU vote

More than 50 Tory MPs are poised to lead the campaign for Britain to quit the European Union if David Cameron fails to secure radical reforms in the UK's ties to Brussels.

Former Cabinet ministers Owen Paterson and John Redwood are among backers of the newly formed Conservatives for Britain (CfB) that will initially support the Prime Minister's bid to renegotiate terms of membership for the UK, according to The Telegraph.

But it stands ready to lead the charge for exit if the deal the premier secures fails to gain major changes such as regaining control over British laws and free trade powers, the report adds.

Conservative MP Steve Baker, the campaign's Westminster chairman, told The Telegraph: "We wish David Cameron every success but, unless senior EU officials awake to the possibility that one of the EU's largest members is serious about a fundamental change in our relationship, our recommendation to British voters seems likely to be exit."

In an article for the newspaper, he added: "I have been struck by the dozens of Tory MPs who would vote to quit the EU now and who will not settle for anything less than fundamental change."

MPs backing the group are reported to have met twice in Parliament since the election and MEP supporters are due to hold a meeting in Strasbourg on Wednesday.

Among those who have agreed to be named are senior eurosceptic Bernard Jenkin and former shadow frontbencher Julian Lewis as well as newly elected Tories James Cleverly, Tom Pursglove, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, and Craig Mackinlay.

Conservative MEP and CfB co-founder David Campbell Bannerman, a former Ukip member, said: "If the EU is not willing to return significant powers to our shores, then Britain should leave. We will set out what we believe needs to be achieved in the renegotiation process if Britain is to remain a member of the EU.

"Restricting freedom of movement of EU citizens and making the UK parliament sovereign over EU law are likely to feature heavily on our agenda."

Mr Paterson, a former environment secretary, called on the Prime Minister to allow ministers to join the No campaign.

"We all hope that the deal is satisfactory and will be widely accepted but if there are individuals in the Cabinet who are not happy with the deal, they should be allowed to campaign," he told the newspaper.

"If that is not allowed, these people - if they have got any character about them at all and are interested in the future of their country - should stand down and campaign according to their conscience."

It comes after Nigel Farage said Ukip was starting the "ground war" for the campaign to leave the EU.

The eurosceptic party leader said he wanted his party to be part of a wider coalition of Labour and Conservative politicians and leading business figures.

Holding the planned in/out referendum next year instead of 2017 would leave the No campaign struggling to get its message across without action now - and it was time to "get cracking", Mr Farage warned.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If that happens, the No campaign simply wouldn't have time to organise and to mobilise."

Meanwhile, Rafał Trzaskowski, Poland's secretary of state for European affairs, said voters must be told the truth about the consequences of leaving the EU.

Pressed over whether he believes Britons might vote for exit, he told the Observer: "It really depends on how the whole thing is depicted by British political parties to the British people - what kind of alternative is painted.

"If you say you can leave and still be part of the internal market and keep your [second] houses, that you will still be free to travel, that there will be no customs duties, and so on and so forth - but that you will not have to accept free movement of workers, and you will not pay into the EU budget, of course people will vote [to leave] ... but this is simply not true."

He added: "If Great Britain leaves, it will minimise its role. I am not trying to be patronising. I think we have to be frank with the British people when we talk about their future in the European Union. Many people in Europe want to be accommodating ... but if the demands are too extreme, they are not going to be met.

"You cannot keep all the goodies and forget about the costs. Britain will still have to pay into the EU budget, just as the Swiss and Norwegians do. It would have no influence over the decisions yet it would have to subscribe to all the rules.

"L ondon would not be that sexy a place for capital movement because it would have much looser links to Europe."

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