UK Politics

Cabinet 'certainly Eurosceptic', says Michael Fallon

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Media captionNick Clegg: 'Britain needs to take lead on Europe'

David Cameron has put together a Eurosceptic cabinet to woo voters back from UKIP, Michael Fallon has said.

Mr Fallon - who has said he would vote for Britain's exit from the EU without reforms - was promoted to defence secretary in Tuesday's reshuffle.

But his words were met with scorn by his new cabinet colleagues Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

The Lib Dem pair insisted the cabinet would never be Eurosceptic as long as they were part of it.

Mr Cable, who as business secretary is Mr Fallon's former boss, said: "I am not in that category and nor is Nick Clegg and indeed quite a few Conservatives, I think, would accept that we have to be totally committed to the European Union.

"If we are not, doubts start to be sowed in the eyes of people investing in this country."

He said he was "optimistic" about the ability of Lib Dem and Tory ministers to continue working together despite big differences on Europe and other policy issues.

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Image caption Michael Fallon is the new defence secretary

Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg said the government would remain "firmly anchored in the centre ground" and in Europe.

Philip Hammond - who took over from William Hague as foreign secretary in Tuesday's reshuffle - has also said he would vote for Britain's exit from the EU if powers were not brought back from Brussels.

Meanwhile, Ken Clarke - the cabinet's most prominent Europhile - announced his retirement from frontline politics and Attorney General Dominic Grieve, a supporter of the European Convention on Human Rights, was sacked.

Asked about the new ministerial line-up on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Fallon said: "It's certainly a Eurosceptic cabinet, but the country is Eurosceptic now.

"We think Europe has been on the wrong lines and you have seen a prime minister prepared now to veto things coming from Europe, who has achieved a budget cut for the first time ever and he is promoting reform in Europe."

'Crucial ministries'

Asked if the reshuffle contained a message for UKIP supporters, he said: "Of course we want people to vote for the only party that really can make change in Europe.

"UKIP would simply leave, that's not the answer. The answer is to get the reforms we want and to get public opinion behind them."

Mr Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU in 2017 if he wins next year's election. His plan is to persuade Britain's EU partners to allow it to bring powers back from Brussels before the referendum happens.

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Image caption Jean Claude Juncker will get the final say over who gets to the top jobs in the EU

Former Conservative minister John Redwood - a leading Eurosceptic - said the coalition government was moving in the right direction, although it would never be entirely Eurosceptic because of the presence of the Lib Dems.

"The crucial ministries are held by Eurosceptics and they are getting ready for the Eurosceptic government that we want to see elected in May next year, which would negotiate a new relationship with Europe, and then either advise the British people that it was a good enough relationship to accept or to advise them that it hadn't worked and we should leave."

Ken Clarke said the new Cabinet was the most Eurosceptic since before former Conservative prime minister Harold Macmillan came to power in 1957.

But he rejected claims that he had been a lone Europhile voice in the cabinet, telling BBC 2's The Daily Politics that he was just the "most outspoken" advocate of the EU at the top table and there were still members of Mr Cameron's team who shared his views.

He also suggested that Mr Cameron, although "not as pro-European as me", was not an "isolationist nationalist" on Europe either.

UKIP Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall said Mr Cameron was "trying to play catch-up" with UKIP but it would not work because the prime minister was a "committed Europhile".

Image caption John Redwood says the new cabinet line-up is more Eurosceptic

Mr Fallon also suggested in his BBC Today interview that the government was considering withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights to make it easier to deport people.

"Many people have been extremely frustrated by the process by which we are able to deport people who have no connection with this country, weren't born here, aren't citizens of this country, want to commit terrorist acts against this country and we have not been able to get rid of them.

"It's taken years to get rid of some of these well-known figures and I think most people would want reform to make sure that we can deport quickly people who threaten our security and have got no right to be here."

Mr Fallon said Britain's nominee for an EU commission post, Lord Hill, was "an effective political operator" who would be able to cut deals within the Commission, but he said it was important that Britain secured one of the key jobs, such as trade or competition.

Mr Cameron is travelling to Brussels to attempt to persuade European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker to give Lord Hill, the former leader of the House of Lords. a key economic portfolio.

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