Huhne blasts 'semi detached UK' bid
A Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister has hit out at Tory Eurosceptics, claiming their ambitions for a looser relationship with Brussels would leave the UK "semi-detached" from the European Union with no say in the rules governing the vitally important single market.
Energy Secretary Chris Huhne warned that "if you are not at the table, you are on the menu" as the political fallout over David Cameron's controversial decision to wield the UK's veto over a new European treaty continued.
But there was support for the Prime Minister's stance from a group of senior business leaders, who cautioned against the UK being "dragged deeper into a more centralised and over-regulated EU".
In an interview in the Independent, Mr Huhne said: "A lot of the Conservative right pine for some semi-detached status where we would be like Norway or Switzerland - enjoying the benefits of the single market without being a members of the EU."
This would give "no direct influence" over European rules and would mean losing the "massive advantage" of being at the EU table. "It is not in the national interest to be in a purely passive relationship, where our interests are being determined by other people," he said.
Mr Huhne, a former MEP, said that "a significant part" of the parliamentary Conservative Party did not understand how important it was to be involved in negotiations in Brussels.
"We need to make the case more positively. The case for our membership of the EU is not a case for ending national sovereignty but for delivering an age-old, historic objective of our foreign policy."
While acknowledging the EU was "too bureaucratic" and needed to change, Mr Huhne said: "That reform is much better argued from a position where you passionately believe in the benefits that can arise from EU membership than if your counterparts believe you have a hidden agenda which is essentially to destroy the EU and all its works."
On the eve of the crucial summit, there was a meeting of the European People's Party, the mainstream centre-right bloc in the European Parliament which Mr Cameron pulled the Tories out of.
Mr Huhne said: "You can't help wondering what would have happened if David Cameron had been there. If you are not at the table when things are being decided, you can't defend your interests. The phrase in Brussels is clear: if you are not at the table, you are on the menu."