David Davis backs Lord Lawson over calls to consider UK relationship with the EU


As published in The Times;

“Voters and Tory MPs warned David Cameron that he must scale back Britain’s relationship with the European Union to little more than free trade or risk losing a referendum.

As Lord Lawson of Blaby’s call for Britain to quit the EU sent shockwaves through Westminster, senior MPs challenged the Prime Minister to scrap most of the Union’s powers.

A shopping list being drawn up by influential backbenchers includes social and employment law, the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and justice and home affairs legislation.

Should Mr Cameron fail to negotiate a new relationship with Brussels more akin to a common market, MPs warned that he would find a significant number of his parliamentary party turning against him in his promised referendum.

The stance is backed by a poll today which shows a majority of voters want either a completely new relationship with the EU or to leave altogether. Forty two per cent of voters said that they wanted a relationship based on free trade and little else while 21 per cent called for British withdrawal, according to the YouGov poll for The Times.

If there was an in-out referendum tomorrow, 46 per cent said they would vote to quit the EU against 35 per cent who would vote to stay in.

It also shows deep public scepticism about Mr Cameron’s assertion that he can, and will, secure substantial changes as he negotiates with fellow EU leaders during the next four years. More than half of voters (53 per cent) said that they believed the fruits of his negotiations would be small.

The findings came as the Tory back benches fractured in response to Lord Lawson’s bombshell in The Times yesterday.

David Davis, the senior MP, said that the former Chancellor’s intervention was “like throwing a sugar cube into a bottle of Coke”. It altered the balance of the argument dramatically. “He has made aggressive Euroscepticism mainstream.”

Mr Davis, who supports the drive for a recast relationship rather than swift withdrawal, urged Mr Cameron to adopt a “more muscular approach” when dealing with EU leaders, arguing that Lord Lawson’s call for a British exit may help to strengthen the Prime Minister’s negotiating hand.

“The settlement we might get could be a lot better,” he said, but only if Mr Cameron talked tougher.

Mr Davis added: “It doesn’t necessarily end up with us leaving. It may end up with a much better deal. The more serious we are about leaving the less likely it is to happen. But the Prime Minister has to employ a more muscular approach.”

Mr Cameron insisted that Lord Lawson’s intervention marked a good day for his European strategy, to promise an in-out referendum in 2017 on the results of a renegotiation. But Lord Lawson dismissed the approach, saying that anything he secured in talks with the 26 other EU leaders would be inconsequential.

The Prime Minister said: “I want to give people a choice not between the status quo and leaving the EU. I want to give people a choice between Britain remaining in a reformed EU or leaving that EU. That is the choice that people want.”

The only way to get it was to vote Tory at the next election, he added, rehearsing a key line from his 2015 general election script that will attempt to persuade voters that backing UKIP is a wasted vote.

But Tory backbenchers attacked the Prime Minister’s position. Bernard Jenkin said that Lord Lawson was “absolutely right”. The idea that Mr Cameron could negotiate the UK out of the Treaty of Rome was “moonshine”.

Sir Gerald Howarth said that leaving the EU would be “the only option” if Mr Cameron failed to secure substantial changes. John Redwood, the former Cabinet minster, said that the relationship must be pared back to one of predominantly trade.

But Margot James, a member of Mr Cameron’s newly formed No 10 policy board, said that Lord Lawson had underestimated the economic costs of a British exit.

There are now at least five positions adopted by Tory MPs towards the EU and a referendum — leave now, as advocated by Lord Lawson; legislate now to guarantee in law a 2017 in-out referendum, championed by MP John Baron and backed by more than 100 Tory MPs; hold a “mandate” referendum next Spring to empower Mr Cameron’s negotiating hand, promoted by David Davis; stage an EU referendum on the same day as the May 2015 general election, supported by Sarah Woolaston; and Mr Cameron’s negotiate now, vote later approach.

Nick Clegg warned that leaving the EU would cost millions of jobs.

But Lord Lawson responded: “Of course that’s poppycock, but I don’t think Nick Clegg, who’s a charming young man, has ever purported to know anything at all about economics.”