01/10/2015 06:48 BST | Updated 01/10/2015 08:59 BST

Lord Nigel Lawson Leads Tory EU Exit Campaign From Second Home In France, Arguing: 'I'm Not Anti-European'

Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson arrives at television studios in Westminster today where he was interviewed about his comments on Europe at the weekend.

Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer leading the Tory campaign to exit the EU, has said he is not "anti-European" because he has a home in France.

The peer, better known as Nigel Lawson, was questioned on Radio 4's Today programme about his fears "xenophobes" would dominate the "out" campaign ahead of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the bloc.

Asked who he was referring to, he said: "They'll be plenty, you know as well as I do.

"The point is I am not anti-European. None of us (in the 'Conservatives for Britain' group) are anti-European. Indeed, I am speaking to you from my home in France.

"The problem is not Europe, the problem is the European Union. It is way past its sell-by date."

Some on Twitter scoffed at the comment.

David Cameron is attempting to thrash out a deal with EU leaders to claw back powers for the UK.

But Lord Lawson, at the helm of the Conservatives for Britain group that includes eurosceptic Tory backbenchers, believes "we cannot afford to wait that long”.

He said he would not share a platform with the rival Out campaign, UKIP-backed Leave.EU but said all were welcome to "rally" to his group.

Writing in The Times this morning, he said: “If we leave the playing field vacant, less moderate, xenophobic voices will dominate the debate and we will fail as soon as the Government, the major political parties, the CBI and trade unions declare they are backing the 'in' campaign."

Lord Lawson, 83, Chancellor between 1983 and 1989, said he “applauds” Mr Cameron’s attempt at reform, but that the EU was "simply not set up to allow individual countries to try to wind back the ratchet".

Lord Lawson at work on the Budget in 1989

On Today, he said: "I've been around a very long time. In my considered judgement the necessary changes are not going to happen. If I am wrong, excellent. But it is highly unlikely."

And he argued europhiles want a "single country United States of Europe". "The European Union is an entirely political venture. There is no economic benefit at all. Economically it is damaging us."