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Cameron in ‘impossible situation’ over Europe

Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind has criticised Tory ministers who have broken ranks over Europe, saying they would vote to leave the EU if a referendum was held now. 

Both education secretary Michael Gove and defence secretary Philip Hammond spoke out on Sunday, and this week Conservative backbenchers are pushing for an amendment to the Parliamentary motion welcoming the Queen’s speech, regretting the absence of an in/out referendum on Europe. 

Prime minister David Cameron has said he will hold a referendum in 2017, if re-elected, following renegotiation of the UK’s membership with the EU. He is currently attending talks with Barack Obama for an EU-US trade deal that could bring £10bn annual benefits to Britain, if it retains its membership. 

Sir Malcolm told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “What they're doing is putting the prime minister in an impossible situation. He cannot simply vote for this amendment because it would split the Coalition right down the middle. But at the same time, the motion cannot win because there is not a parliamentary majority for it. 

“This amendment isn't going to get carried. So all those supporting it will have achieved is they will have split their own party. They will, as you have seen, cast questions over the prime minister's authority and indirectly, unintentionally, they will be helping the Labour party's prospects at the next election. That is not just foolish, it is quite contrary to all the political instincts of a responsible political party that wants to hold and retain power after the next general election.” 

Gove told the Andrew Marr show: “My preference is for a change in Britain's relationship with the European Union. My ideal is exactly what the majority of the British public's ideal is, which is to recognise the current situation is no good, to say that life outside would be perfectly tolerable, we could contemplate it, there would be certain advantages. 

“But the best deal for Europe, and for Britain, would be if Britain were to lead the change that Europe needs.” 

Hammond, interviewed for Pienaar's Politics on BBC radio, later said: “If the choice is between a European Union written exactly as it is today and not being a part of that then I have to say that I'm on the side of the argument that Michael Gove has put forward.” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected] 

Image c. European Parliament 


Richard Leggott   13/05/2013 at 13:35

I have just read the quotes from Sir Malcolm Rifkind re EU membership. It saddens me, and maybe many other people, to realise from his words that the prime aim of politicians is to retain power rather than govern to reflect the wish of the people. Has the link between the two now been declared redundant?

Lou Scales   13/05/2013 at 13:59

It isn't sensible to express a view before understanding fully all the arguments for and against. We also need a rounded selection of facts not a special selection that suits someone's point of view. . It is perfectly understandable that the E U will not want to discuss change at this stage as they have bigger problems around the Euro and government's trying to get their house in order. It would be better to get agreement to a set of priorities that cover all the matters we all want to discuss.

John Richards   13/05/2013 at 14:25

For the United Kingdom to be successful in the future it will need to return to the democratic process, where electors vote for politicians that best represent their views. It is clear that faced with an IN/OUT referendum today the majority based on what would be a large voter turnout, would vote OUT. The idea that a Prime Minister, selected by a few and a small number of pompous Rifkindesque politicians should be allowed to frustrate the will of the people is unacceptable. A full presentation of the facts to the British people followed by a free and fair vote by the electorate in an early referendum must occur. If this is not the way chosen the Conservative party will be split and indeed may never again achieve an electoral mandate. In time of war faced by a threat to the Nations democratic values and way of life the people are called upon to lay down their lives. In times of peace where these values are under attack it seems the ruling elite prefer that the view of the people is subordinated to the views of a disconnected political few.

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