Michael Gove and Philip Hammond would vote for Britain to leave the EU

 

Philip Hammond: 'I'm on the side of the argument that Michael Gove has put forward'

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Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has become the second cabinet minister to say he would vote for Britain to leave the EU if a referendum were held now.

But, like education secretary Michael Gove, he said David Cameron must be given a chance to bring powers back from Brussels before deciding.

Mr Hammond told BBC Radio 5live it would be "defeatist" to leave the EU without attempting reform.

Mr Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum in 2017.

"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," said Mr Hammond in an interview on Radio 5live's Pienaar's politics.

Earlier, Mr Gove became the most senior Conservative to date to publicly contemplate backing Britain's exit from the EU, although "friends" of the cabinet minister have previously told a newspaper that is where he stands.

'Letting off steam'

Start Quote

I believe that we have to negotiate a better solution that works better for Britain if we are going to stay in and play a part in the European Union in the future.”

End Quote Phillip Hammond Defence secretary

"I am not happy with our position in the European Union but my preference is for a change in Britain's relationship with the European Union," said Mr Gove.

"Life outside would be perfectly tolerable, we could contemplate it, there would be certain advantages."

Tory backbenchers have tabled an amendment to the motion welcoming the Queen's Speech regretting the absence of legislation paving the way for a referendum in the government's plans for the year ahead.

Mr Gove described this as "letting off steam".

And he said he planned to abstain if there was a Commons vote on the amendment.

"My own view is let the prime minister lay out our negotiating strategy, make sure he has a majority, which I am convinced he will secure at the next election, and let's have the referendum then."

Home Secretary Theresa May also said she would abstain in the Commons vote, which will be held on Tuesday or Wednesday if it is called by Speaker John Bercow.

Mr Hammond said: "I believe that we have to negotiate a better solution that works better for Britain if we are going to stay in and play a part in the European Union in the future, but let me be absolutely clear: I think it is defeatist to sort of say we want to leave the European Union.

Analysis

Michael Gove managed to flash a saucy amount of Eurosceptic leg, , whilst simultaneously promising to do as he is told and abstain, if there is a vote demanding that the government introduce legislation guaranteeing a referendum.

For years, Mr Gove has been a strident critic of the European Union - and the UK's current relationship with it.

But his remarks are indicative of a broader trend. The centre of gravity within the Conservative Party at Westminster on the issue of Europe has shifted from where it was 20 years ago.

The Sunday Telegraph's headline today, "Tories in Europe turmoil", could very easily have appeared in countless editions of the paper over the past two decades.

But being openly Eurosceptic, and willing to consider withdrawal from the EU if negotiations with Brussels are deemed insufficient, is now a mainstream view among Conservative MPs.

There are far, far fewer keepers of the European flame on the Tory benches than there used to be and those keepers tend to keep their heads down.

"We should say no, this is a club that we are members of, and before we talk about leaving it, first of all we're going to try and change the rules and change the way it works and change the objectives that it has in order to make it something that works for Britain."

Unusual step

David Cameron has promised an in/out referendum in 2017 - if the Conservatives win the next election.

A group of Conservative backbenchers, led by John Baron, have been campaigning for him to firm up this commitment by legislating in the current Parliament for a referendum.

The rebel MPs wanted the legislation to be included in last week's Queen's Speech setting out the government's plans for the year ahead.

Mr Cameron has said he was prevented from doing so by the Lib Dems.

So the rebels have taken the unusual step of tabling an amendment to the Queen's Speech debate, raising the prospect of government MPs voting against their own programme. It is thought about 100 backbench MPs could do so.

The amendment, tabled by Mr Baron and fellow Eurosceptic Peter Bone, expresses regret that the government has not announced an EU referendum bill.

It is highly unlikely to be passed, as Labour, the Lib Dems and many Conservatives will vote against it or abstain but Mr Baron has said it will keep the issue in the spotlight.

'Destabilising'

The furore has been seized on by Labour as a sign that Mr Cameron has lost control of his party.

Start Quote

I don't think we should set our face against consulting the British people”

End Quote Ed Balls Shadow Chancellor

The Conservatives say Mr Miliband is unwilling to give the public a say on a vital issue.

Speaking on Sky's Murnaghan programme, shadow chancellor Ed Balls said: "I don't think we should set our face against consulting the British people."

He said Labour would back a referendum if there was "any proposal to change the powers between Britain and the European Union which would take powers away from Britain".

But he said the party would not make a commitment to a referendum at a time when there was a push to reform the EU as it would be "destabilising" and not "statesmanlike".

Pie charts showing UK trade with the EU and other parts of the world
 

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  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 459.

    I am reading a degree involving a compulsory "Erasmus" year abroad. This is an EU scheme intended for educational mobility across EU & EFTA countries. It has been unexpendable to my professional development and otherwise financially impossible for someone of my background without UK membership of the EU. The EU should better advertise how it can directly benefit British citizens, such as Erasmus.

  • rate this
    +15

    Comment number 425.

    The abstract notion of the EU may be admirable, but the current forced attempt to implement it is disasterous. Such moves towards integration need to come from the ordinary people upwards, not imposed upon them from on high. It is time politicians served the people more than their own vested interests. It would be best served by forcing the EU to have its books audited and to have more democracy.

  • rate this
    +22

    Comment number 108.

    I hate to agree with anything the Tories say, but I believe it is probably time to leave the EU. The majority of EU members want to go down a road to political union that we won't follow. Better to get out in a soon rather than be sidelined by the rest. Trade with the EU will continue if we leave. It's as much in their interest as ours. We will not lose access to EU markets. They need us too.

  • rate this
    +69

    Comment number 32.

    The EU has doubtless many faults - but quite apart from the fact that is helped to maintain peace and prosperity in Europe tens of thousands of UK citizens are in jobs dependent on our membership. Does Mr Gove really believe that American, Indian and Chinese corporations invest here simply because Britain is a jolly good place? No, because through us they have access to the EU and its market!

  • rate this
    +37

    Comment number 28.

    If we were to have a referendum re our membership of the EU, at least we may get a decent debate on the pros and cons of membership. At the moment all we are hearing are polarised views. We have been promised a referendum on the transfer of powers by the main parties who then reneged on their promises, why? if our membership is so good for us, then present us with the facts and let us choose

 

Comments 5 of 6

 

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