Ken Clarke's EU Referendum Outburst Gets Short Shrift From Eurosceptic Backbenchers

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KEN CLARKE
Ken Clarke Must Have Known His EU Referendum Comments Would Have Caused Outrage | PA

Backbench MPs have dismissed Ken Clarke's claim that the call for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union is merely the demand of "a few right-wing journalists and a few extreme nationalist politicians".

Eurosceptic Tory and Labour MPs have suggested the justice secretary had no influence over the likliehood of Britain holding a national vote on EU membership.

Speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 Clarke said a referendum held today would "throw absolute confusion" over the UK's involvement in the EU, undermining efforts to retain the faith of the markets in the economy.

"I can't think of anything sillier to do," he said.

Clarke must have known that his comments would inflame many eurosceptic MPs within his own party - and in that, he hasn't been disappointed.

Adam Holloway resigned as a ministerial aide during a non-binding vote on whether there should be an in/out referendum on Europe, during which 81 Tories rebelled against the government.

He told HuffPost: "To describe people who want a European referendum as extreme nationalists is not very constructive.

"Lots of people want to have a choice. It suggests he thinks somehow that if people had a vote they'd vote to leave. That is one of the dangers for the right, for those of us who want to have a different relationship with Europe. You could find that people wanted to stay in because of the architecture of fear of the consequences of withdrawal."

"The British people should be asked. I'm not telling them what to think or say."

Prominent eurosceptic Douglas Carswell - who has already called for Ken Clarke to resign this year - said the justice secretary had been "consistently wrong throughout his career".

“There is nothing vaguely nationalistic about wanting to give the people the final say over whether we remain in the EU," he added, speaking to the Daily Telegraph.

Labour MP Kate Hoey - one of the few eurosceptics on the opposition benches - told The Huffington Post she doubted anyone would be swayed by Clarke's views. "I don't think the public will be influenced one bit by any remarks by Kenneth Clarke on Europe. His view is certainly not the view or represents the feelings of the vast majority of the public on this issue," she said.

"The public want to have their say, whether they're for or against. That's why I'm calling for referendum as soon as possible, but I accept it will probably be after the next election."

Yet Clarke has found support in an unlikely place. Former Tory 1922 co-secretary Mark Pritchard, who founded the 81 group - a eurosceptic wing of the party formed after the massive rebellion on Europe - told HuffPost: Ken Clarke is one of the most competent and able people in the government - but on Europe we disagree."

Which is not, on the face of it, faint praise.

A senior Tory source told HuffPost there was a good chance that there would be some form of referendum on the EU in Britain before the next election, because any Greek exit from the Eurozone would trigger the need for significant reforms and possible "profound" treaty changes.

They pointed out that because David Cameron had promised a referendum on any treaty which potentially transferred British sovereignty to Europe, a national vote on Europe could come sooner than many expect.

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