Liam Fox urges government to issue 'quit EU' ultimatum


Dr Fox: ''Britain's destiny is not a debating issue for leaders on the Continent''

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Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox has recommended that the UK should leave the European Union unless there is a rebalancing of their relationship.

He said coalition policies were "being curtailed by diktat from Brussels" and urged a referendum on the issue.

The comments will add to pressure on David Cameron who is due to address MPs later on last week's EU summit.

The prime minister has said he is prepared to consider a referendum, but urged campaigners to show "patience".

Mr Cameron's House of Commons statement at 1530 BST follows last week's EU summit in Brussels at which eurozone leaders agreed a bailout deal for their debt-laden banks.

As a non-eurozone leader he was not present during these discussions, but afterwards he insisted he had secured "explicit commitments" to protect the European single market.

'No terror'

Many Eurosceptics fear the UK could lose out in a "two-tier Europe", as eurozone economies integrate further as they work to deal with the debt crisis.

In his speech organised by the Taxpayers' Alliance in London, Mr Fox suggested this could alter the whole set-up of the EU, insisting that "life outside the EU holds no terror".

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David Cameron and Liam Fox appear to be contemplating the same sort of referendum - a post renegotiation poll”

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However, he said holding a referendum now "would be a huge error with enormous tactical risks", and that the UK should first seek to "negotiate a new relationship with the EU based on economic rather than political considerations, and set out in clear and unambiguous language".

If this failed, there would be "no alternative but to recommend rejection and consider departure from the EU".

He added: "We should not wait for EU leaders to recognise the failure of the ill-conceived euro before we set out what we want for the British people. Britain's destiny is not a debating issue for leaders on the Continent."

Mr Fox, who resigned last year after it was found he had breached the ministerial code in his working relationship with friend Adam Werritty, is seen as a leading figure among Conservative Eurosceptics.


He said that, when the referendum on staying in the then European Economic Community had taken place in 1975, voters had been "sold a pup", with intended movement towards ever-greater political union not publicised.

It would be in the UK's national interest to retain the "customs union", but "not other elements I regard as an intrusion into our national life".

Nigel Farage: ''If we are just going to have some sort of fudged referendum... then frankly that isn't good enough''

Mr Fox also said the EU was "not foreign enough", as it did too little to foster trade with growing markets such as China and had become "increasingly uncompetitive" globally by extending rights and benefits.

He described the latest Brussels summit as "Groundhog Day", adding: "What really happened was that fiscally incontinent banks, and nations, sought to avoid their responsibilities and kick the problems, yet again, into the long grass."

Mr Fox was asked about a possible return to government, replying that he would have remained in office for "about 25 minutes" had he made his comments while in office.

He said: "There are some freedoms on the back benches... there are not a huge number of benefits, but there are some and this is one of them."

His comments come amid growing backbench demands for a public vote on the UK's relationship with Brussels.

Last week Conservative MP John Baron said almost 100 colleagues had signed a letter calling on the prime minister to prepare legislation committing the UK to an EU referendum after the next election.


The prime minister responded that he "completely" understood concerns, but after the EU summit ended on Friday he rejected the idea of an in/out referendum and stressed the need to "shape a relationship with Europe that benefits the United Kingdom".

Mr Cameron clarified his views in the Sunday Telegraph, writing that he was "not against referendums on Europe" but that he did not agree with those who wanted "the earliest possible in/out referendum".

He acknowledged the need to ensure the UK's position within the European Union had "the full-hearted support of the British people" but they needed to show "tactical and strategic patience".

Europe is seen as a divisive issue within the coalition government, with the Conservatives broadly less in favour of the EU than their Liberal Democrat partners.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and Lib Dem leader, said that "the ink is barely dry" on legislation that would trigger a referendum if more powers were transferred to Brussels.

He added: "David and I spoke about it. He is entirely entitled to talk as leader of his own party. This is a coalition. You have two people at the top with two different instincts on this."

He added: "It is clearly not a priority now to have an abstract debate about a referendum on a question which is not yet specified on a date which is not yet specified on a set of circumstances which is not yet specified."

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said leaving the EU should be among the choices presented to voters, arguing: "If we are just going to have a fudged referendum on 'do we stay in or go further?' then that's not good enough."

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves refused to rule out the possibility of a future Labour government holding a referendum once the new shape of Europe became clearer, but called the prime minister's stance on Europe "a shambles".

Lib Dem Member of the European Parliament Sir Graham Watson described Dr Fox's speech as "a desperate move by a discredited Tory to bang the populist drum to try to revitalise an ailing political career".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    357, ye old hammer. If only they were doing something about those issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    Truth is, if there was in/out referendum in the near future & the answer was No then whatever government was in power (Tory, Labour, probably even UKIP) would immediately turn around & join the EEA & people would be saying in a few years, I thought we'd voted to leave the EU, how come we're in this EEA thing & still having to obey most of their rules. Referenda only work if ask the right question

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    362.helo thar

    I think you are confused. The European Union and the ECHR are not the same thing. Far from it. Not being a member of the EU would make no difference at all to our membership of the ECHR.

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    346. Leaguefan
    "The sooner the United States of Europe comes about the better. There is no other economic or political argument that is logical against this."

    Well given the eurocrats aggressive stance against the US I can see one and as it has happened before I do not want to see it repeated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    Uncompetitive with whom? The rice bowl economies of China and India? We were never going to compete with them on price and nor would we want to! The High wage economies of Japan, Korea or the USA?
    I’m sorry Mr Fox, but give me Johnny Foreigner as a manager any day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    Dreading prospect of the inevitable 'Yes' and 'No' campains for future refendum. How can the vast majority of us understand the complexities of the EU and whether it is REALLY in our interests to be in it or not?
    The adversorial manner of tv debates etc will be influenced by personality or party lines.
    How about having one of the debates where all the speakers MUST argue for the opposite view?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    Someone ought to knock up some Javascript which analyses posts for near-verbatim repetition of misleading tabloid talking points and provides the option to hide them.

    I don't mind people making different conclusions from me. But that's not the same as a mental copy-paste of something which isn't accurate in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    Just now
    Here is the challenge folks see if you can make a HYS comment without including, Little Englanders, Daily Mail readers, Nazi Party,faaaaacists, and of course racsists!
    As for me I must be all of the above as I want a return to what we voted for in 1973 and have never been consulted since

    Typical left wing response to any reasoned argument against their ideals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    Come on people,why are we even talking about a referendum on "in or out of the EU"? The whole thing is just falling apart anyway,it was only ever an impossible dream ! The varying cultures of member countries are basically so incompatible it can never work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    What do the markets think?
    In reality that is all that really matters.
    Sad isn't it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    I do believe that its now time for a grown up debate about the UK in Europe. I think we are now moving into the beginning of the end for the euro as we know it. quite where this leaves us remains to be seen. I do think the debate and our options are a little more complex than 'in or out'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    Here is the challenge folks see if you can make a HYS comment without including, Little Englanders, Daily Mail readers, Nazi Party,faaaaacists, and of course racsists!
    As for me I must be all of the above as I want a return to what we voted for in 1973 and have never been consulted since.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    It's nice to see him admit that he wants the UK to leave the EU because they are interfering with coalition policies.

    All those pesky "human rights" and "civil liberties" laws. What a bother those are. They'll no doubt be getting in the way of this new guilty before proven innocent digital economy bill rule too.

    China doesn't have to put up the EU, and look at them, a wonderful place-- oh wait

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    give us one good reason why we should trust Fox or Cameron?

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    @311. WhyMe44
    "But it's true innit?
    Or maybe you don't mix with "ordinary" people"
    What a hair-shirted, self-deprecating, low self esteem, no self belief, fatalist, "we are all victims", I can`t change anything, I and my friends don`t matter, statement.


  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    323. SuperJulianR

    A true single market means a customs union, harmonised technical standards,money and services as well as goods and free movement of people with open borders. That requires mutinational institutions.

    Yes, but it does not require all the rest of the EU gravy train, farm subsidies, fishing policy, bailouts to dodgy banks in Spain, 'human rights without responsibility' etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    @263 leecong
    For those who say that this was all clear before we joined the "Common Market"
    "There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe, we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears I need hardly say are completely unjustified" Ted Heath white paper 1971.
    "There is no danger of a single currency."
    Ted Heath, EEC information leaflet, 1975. etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    Cameron is right though holding the referumdum now would sink us. Until things get more stable a referendum on the EU should be secondary to dealing with unemployment and other pressing issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    Let's sort out the bankers, the economy & the politicians, the dodgy links between them & the equally dodgy links around certain media empires before we start getting all excited about Europe.

    Another Tory smokescreen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    Unfortunately I suspect that Britain leaving the EU would make the break-up of the UK more rather than less likely.
    London might consider itself a "world city" that can thrive without the contraints of the EU, but regions outside the south east can hardly do anything but suffer from the loss of their biggest markets. The country would surely become even more divided politically and economically.


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