Conservative MP Douglas Carswell tells Channel 4 News why he plans to defy a three-line whip and vote for a rebel motion on Europe.
The motion, proposed by fellow Tory David Nuttall, calls for a referendum on the EU with three options: maintaining the status quo, withdrawal, or reform of Britain’s membership.
Mr Carswell said he favoured withdrawal, but was “willing to go along with what the people want”. The debate, which was triggered after an e-petition on the No.10 website attracted 100,000 signatures, should have been followed by a free vote rather than a three-line whip, he said.
“It was put on the agenda by the people through a mechanism that allows it to trigger a debate. It is quite extraordinary that we do that to renew democracy and use the old-boy whipping system to try to crush it.
It is about taking control of Europe policy from the Westminster ‘elite’. Douglas Carswell, Conservative MP
“For 40 years we’ve left Europe policy to ministers and mandarins and they’ve made a dog’s breakfast of it. How on earth did we manage to get into this situation? By leaving it to the Sir Humphreys and ministers.
“It is about taking control of Europe policy from the Westminster ‘elite’ and giving it to the people. At a time of austerity, we are asking every householder to contribute £500 to bail out a currency we’re not a part of.”
Mr Carswell, MP for Clacton, said if Prime Minister David Cameron had allowed a non-binding free vote, it would have strengthened his hand during negotiations with Britain’s European partners.
Amid claims that party whips have been threatening MPs who are planning to defy the three-line whip, Mr Carswell said he had not been pressurised. “I always make it clear to the whips that I will vote a particular way on a particular issue.”
The British public should have a say in our relationship with Europe. Priti Patel, Conservative MP
Priti Patel, Conservative MP for Witham, will also vote for the motion. She used to work for Foreign Secretary William Hague when he was Conservative leader and has always taken a sceptical position on Europe. But she does not want a British withdrawal, rather a repatriation of some of the EU’s powers to member states.
“I am someone who has spent all my political life campaigning for a referendum on our relationship with the EU. We do live in a democracy and when you think about the fact that Europe impacts on our lives on a daily basis, on our jobs and economy, then on that basis the British people should decide. I fundamentally believe the British public should have a say in our relationship with Europe.”
Ms Patel said she wanted employment legislation and social policy returned to individual countries and argued that Tory MPs rebelling against the leadership were not just motivated by the prospect of Britain pulling out of the EU.
“They want progress on our relationship and are not advocating the status quo. There’s a mixture of views. Some will be in our out, but others want fundamental change.”
Ms Patel said she had not been contacted by the whips. “Nobody has spoken to me, but then I’m pretty consistent in my views. I really do feel strongly about this.”
Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, will be voting with the government and is critical of his Conservative coalition partners. “Conservatives should have the courage of their own convictions and stop hiding behind the party label and go and join UKIP,” he said. “This is a huge gamble with the future prosperity of this country and not a gamble I would take.
“The consequences of withdrawing from Europe are very serious indeed. Some financial institutions would leave London, to the disadvantage of the British economy. What we are being offered tonight is a kneejerk simplistic poll.”
What are the advantages of EU membership?
The biggest advantage is free trade through membership of the single market. The EU is Britain's biggest trading partner; responsible for 57 per cent of our exports and 55 per cent of our imports.If it pulled out, it would presumably seek to forge a new trade agreement with the EU, but it is difficult to imagine that this would be as economically advantageous as the single market.
The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has estimated that "EU countries trade twice as much with each other as they would do in the absence of the single market programme", adding: "Given that, according to the OECD, a 10 percentage point increase in trade exposure is associated with a 4 per cent rise in income per capita, increased trade in Europe since the early 1980s may be responsible for around 6 per cent higher income per capita in the UK."
The European Commission has estimated that the single market raised EU gross domestic product (GDP) by 2.2 per cent from 1992-2006, creating 2.75m jobs. BIS has calculated that 3.5m jobs are linked directly or indirectly to the UK's trade with the EU.
What are the disadvantages?
By withdrawing, Britain would not have to contribute to the EU budget, which is costing £7.3bn net this year. It would also cease to be bound by directives and regulations that critics say are over-burdening business.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which is in favour of withdrawal, says: "Including indirect costs, such as red tape, the true cost of the EU to the UK is estimated at up to £120bn a year."
UKIP also disputes the argument that British jobs depend on EU membership, saying: "European companies sell us more than we sell them; we are their largest client. So our trade and jobs would continue if we left the European Union, and we would benefit by escaping from its crippling over-regulation."
The government accepts that regulation costs Britain money. BIS estimates the figure at £9bn a year, while the Open Europe think tank believes it is more than double that.
Open Europe, which is opposed to withdrawal, but wants a reformed EU, has found that European employment legislation from 1998-2009 cost the Britain a total of £39bn. It also quotes a 2008 Cabinet Office report, which calculates that the common agricultural policy adds an extra £264 to every EU family's food bill.
But using what it calls a "crude estimation", the think tank says that for every £1 regulations cost, they deliver £1.02 of benefits. This is because some regulations make trade easier between EU member states.