Tory Cabinet Ministers Could Be Allowed To Campaign For EU Exit

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David Cameron will allow Tory cabinet ministers to campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, it has been reported.

On Friday the prime minister is expected to set out plans to hold a referendum on Britain's relationship with the EU.

Cameron will meet with Conservative members of the cabinet this afternoon in order to brief them on the contents of his long awaited speech.

It is believed that the prime minister will pledge to negotiate a looser trade-based relationship with the EU and then put that new settlement to the British people in a referendum.

According to the Daily Mail he will allow Tory ministers to campaign for a 'no' vote, against Britain's continued membership of the EU, if they wish.

However Cameron dodged the question when grilled on the subject of Tory splits by Ed Miliband during prime minister questions.

"He has lost control of his party," the Labour leader said. "The problem is this he thinks his problems with Europe will end on Friday, they are just beginning."

Miliband added: "It's the same old Tories; a divided party and a weak prime minister."

Cameron said it would be "dangerous" for Britain if the government chose to ignore the changes taking place in Europe as a result of the economic crisis.

"What Britain should be doing is getting in there, fighting for the changes we want so then we can ask for the consent of the British people to settle this issue once and for all," he said.

It has been suggested that up to nine cabinet ministers could campaign for Britain to leave the EU in the event of a referendum.

On Monday, communities secretary Eric Pickles said he would not be voting along party lines in any ballot, fuelling speculation he may advocate an exit. "I'll be voting on what I think is the interests of the country," he said.

In November, eurosceptic work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said he saw no reason why Britain could not do as well, or better, outside the EU than it does inside.

And education secretary Michael Gove was reported to have told friends that the UK had "nothing to be scared of" if it left the union.

Cameron is under pressure from eurosceptic backbench Tory MPs to claw back powers from Brussels to Westminster.

A group of Conservative backbenchers today 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 the major speech in the Netherlands in which 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:

  • An "emergency brake" for all member states on financial services issues;
  • Repatriation of powers on social and employment law, or at least a UK opt-out and emergency brake in these areas;
  • A UK opt-out from all policing and criminal justice measures;
  • A new legal safeguard for the single market;
  • 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".

The prime minister's official spokesperson said Cameron thought the group had made a "very interesting contribution" to the debate.

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