Britain’s Education Secretary Michael Gove, a key ally of Prime Minister David Cameron, became the latest Tory to urge the country to consider leaving the European Union, saying the U.K. would benefit from an exit.
Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017, promising to renegotiate the terms of British engagement with the EU if he wins the 2015 election. Tory lawmakers have still tabled an amendment which “expresses regret” that last week’s Queen’s speech setting out next year’s legislative session doesn’t include provision for the EU vote. To support the amendment would be to rebel against Cameron.
“I’m not happy with our position in the European Union, but my preference is for a change in Britain’s relationship with the European Union,” Gove told the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” today. “My ideal is exactly what the majority of the British public’s ideal is, which is to recognize the current situation is no good, to say that life outside would be perfectly tolerable, we could contemplate it, there would be certain advantages.”
By promising a referendum, Cameron had hoped to shelve the issue of Europe until after 2015. On May 7, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson prompted fresh debate when he urged a U.K. exit, a call echoed by Michael Portillo, a former defense secretary. Margaret Thatcher’s biographer said May 8 that she too had concluded Britain should leave. The Tories lost seats in local elections on May 2 to the U.K. Independence Party, which wants to pull out of the 27-nation bloc.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told the Sunday Times newspaper today that he “is firmly on the Euroskeptic wing” of the Tory party. About 100 Tory lawmakers may vote against the government on the amendment in Parliament this week, the Sunday Telegraph said.
Gove said he would abstain on the vote, saying that Tories should support Cameron’s negotiating position.
“I believe that while we absolutely need to have a referendum at some point in the future, it’s not appropriate at this stage, and also, in a way, it’s an exercise in letting off steam, because we can’t have a referendum bill because we’re in coalition,” he said. “One of the things that I think is often under-remarked is that coalition policies, as we’ve just been discussing, changes the way that things are seen.”
The Sun on Sunday newspaper reported that UKIP could win up to eight Parliamentary districts in 2015 based on its current level of popularity and data from the local elections analyzed by pollsters Survation. The Mail on Sunday said the EU vote might be brought forward by a year to allay Tory concerns.
Home Secretary Theresa May was repeatedly asked today if she supported Britain leaving the EU. She declined to answer directly, saying she backs Cameron’s position and would abstain on the rebel amendment this week.
“I’ve got every sympathy with people who say that they want to ensure that we can give the assurance of the in-out referendum taking place,” May, a Conservative, told Sky News. “Obviously I don’t think it’s right for ministers to effectively vote against the policy program we’ve put forward in the Queen’s speech.”
Another Tory, Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, dismissed talk of a party split, telling the BBC’s “Sunday Politics” that the Tories are “violently agreeing here.”
“We all believe that there needs to be a referendum on Europe,” he said. “Now, some of our backbench colleagues think that the best way to do that is to bring forward a bill in this parliament that would be almost certain to be defeated, because it won’t be supported by the Liberal Democrats and it will be opposed by the Labour Party.”
The opposition Labour Party’s home affairs spokeswoman, Yvette Cooper, said the Tory position means uncertainty for business as the U.K. emerges from recession.
“There is a kind of frenzy going on in the Tory party about a vote this week,” Cooper told the “Andrew Marr” show. “Utterly incomprehensible -- you could have government ministers potentially voting against their own Queen’s speech. You need cool, calm heads and statesmanlike behavior at a time like this, and I don’t think that is what David Cameron is showing.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg used his weekly e-mail to his Liberal Democrat party to accuse his Tory coalition partners of “endless navel-gazing” over the issue of Europe, The Independent on Sunday newspaper reported.
To contact the reporter on this story: Kitty Donaldson in London at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at email@example.com