Tory MPs set out blueprint on EU
A group of Conservative backbenchers has set out a blueprint for the renegotiation of Britain's membership of the European Union, warning that "the status quo is no longer an option".
Two days ahead of a major speech in the Netherlands in which Prime Minister David Cameron will set out his plans for a new settlement for the UK in Europe, the Fresh Start Project's Manifesto for Change urged him to focus his efforts on "a robust but achievable renegotiation of our terms of membership".
The manifesto demands five significant revisions to EU treaties including an "emergency brake" for all member states on financial services issues and repatriation of powers on social and employment law, or at least a UK opt-out and emergency brake in these areas. It also calls for a UK opt-out from all policing and criminal justice measures, a new legal safeguard for the single market, and the abolition of the Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament.
Foreign Secretary William Hague appeared to signal that the group's ideas chime with thinking on Europe at the top of the Conservative Party, hailing the manifesto in a foreword as a "well-researched and well-considered document full of powerful ideas for Britain's future in Europe". "Many of the proposals are already Government policy, some could well become future Government or Conservative Party policy and some may require further thought," said Mr Hague, adding that it will be "essential reading" for those drawing up the Tory manifesto for the 2015 general election.
Mr Cameron is due to meet Conservative Cabinet members to brief them on the details of his long-awaited speech on Europe and is almost certain to face questions about its keenly anticipated contents at Prime Minister's Questions.
The Fresh Start Project, fronted by former Cameron aide George Eustice and other MPs including Andrea Leadsom, Tim Loughton and Chris Heaton-Harris, is said to have wide backing on the Tory backbenches, though the exact scale of support is not known.
Unlike some of their Conservative colleagues, the Fresh Start group did not argue for British withdrawal from the EU, presenting the case instead for a "new and different relationship for ourselves whilst remaining a full member of the EU", which it suggested could also be pursued by other member states which do not use the single currency.
Conservative Cabinet minister Kenneth Clarke warned that a referendum could be used as a vehicle for protest groups to protest against the Government, and Mr Cameron could not "take a Yes vote for granted". Turning his fire on the "30 or 40" Conservative MPs who he claimed were calling for a referendum because they want to leave the EU, Mr Clarke told the Financial Times: "If you realise you're doomed in Parliament, you demand a referendum - that's what the hangers and floggers used to do." He warned: "I think if Britain ever does leave the European Union it will be difficult to adjust to our loss of a leading role in the political evolution of Europe and our reduced role in the global political world."
Meanwhile, Britain's former ambassador to the US, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, warned against a "move to the sidelines" on Europe. Sir Nigel, a former Brussels diplomat, warned: "If we are influential in Europe then we have a bigger impact in Washington and the other power capitals. These things are mutually reinforcing. I just cannot see any logical basis for thinking a move to the sidelines, or particularly a move out of Europe, would be anything other than diminishing to the UK's capacity, standing, influence, ability to get things done and capacity to build coalitions internationally."
Mr Cameron's official spokesman said that there was "a wide-ranging debate currently going on in Britain" on relations with the EU. "The Prime Minister thinks that Fresh Start's contribution is a very interesting contribution to that debate," the spokesman added.