Prime Minister David Cameron faced criticism of his strategy to win back powers from the European Union from leading figures in all three main U.K. political parties.
Ken Clarke, a Cabinet member from Cameron’s Tories, Liberal Democrat Treasury minister Danny Alexander and former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson from the opposition Labour Party united for the establishment of a pressure group titled British Influence. The group will assemble an “army of supporters to fight europhobia and promote a reform and growth agenda that serves the British national interest,” according to an e-mailed statement today.
“We need to concentrate on what we are in favor of and not just what we are against,” Clarke, who is one of a minority of pro-EU Conservative lawmakers, will say in London tonight, according to extracts of his speech released by the group. “There is a huge potential prize out there for the United Kingdom if only we focus our attention and influence in any future negotiations on the positive things that really matter.”
The premier set out his plans last week for looser British membership of the 27-nation bloc, pledging to put renegotiated terms to a popular vote by the end of 2017, if re-elected in two years. He says he wants Britain to remain in the EU.
The speech, in response to demands from many Tory lawmakers, sparked criticism that potential uncertainty surrounding a four-year debate over EU membership would undermine the U.K. economy’s appeal to global business. More than half of British exports went to EU countries in 2011, the latest annual data available, and the government says more than 3 million U.K. jobs rely on trade with fellow members.
The speech again highlighted differences between the Tories and their coalition partners, the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.
“It should be obvious to all that we are more powerful negotiating from inside Europe than from the sidelines,” Alexander will say. “The EU is not perfect by any stretch and I’m a big advocate of EU reform. But the idea that we should extract ourselves from the bulk of EU obligations is nonsensical.”
Mandelson, a member of the upper House of Lords, will say that euroskeptics “have been allowed to get away with murder with the lies and false propaganda they have poured out about the European Union and what it represents for our country.”
“This cannot go unchallenged anymore,” Mandelson will say. “The pro-Europeans have bided their time. Now we must unbide our time. Instead of heading up a cul-de-sac of mindless, inward-looking soul-searching and navel-gazing, we should be going out and spreading our influence and fighting for the agenda we think is good for Britain and for Europe as a whole.”
Cameron demoted Clarke from justice secretary to minister without portfolio during a government reorganization in September.
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