Nick Clegg says leaving the EU would increase unemployment and make the UK “less safe”, after Nigel Lawson becomes the most senior Tory figure to call for a European exit.
Writing in the Times, Lord Lawson pledged to vote ‘no’ in a referendum on EU membership, saying that there is now a “clear” case for withdrawal, and insisted the economic benefits “would substantially outweigh the costs”.
Mr Cameron is already under pressure to hold a “mandate referendum” as early as next spring to seek public approval of his strategy of putting a renegotiated settlement to an in/out vote by 2017.
We are now becoming increasingly marginalised as we are doomed to being consistently outvoted by the eurozone bloc. Lord Lawson
Following Nigel Farage’s rampant success in the local council elections on Friday, the comments will further embolden the Conservative Party’s eurosceptic MPs calling for action to be taken.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has hit back at the comments however, saying leaving Europe would increase unemployment and make the UK “less safe”.
Lord Lawson, Chancellor under Magaret Thatcher, wrote in the Times: “The heart of the matter is that the very nature of the European Union, and of this country’s relationship with it, has fundamentally changed after the coming into being of the European monetary union and the creation of the eurozone, of which – quite rightly – we are not a part.
“That is why, while I voted ‘in’ in 1975, I shall be voting ‘out’ in 2017.
“Not only do our interests increasingly differ from those of the eurozone members but, while never ‘at the heart of Europe’ (as our political leaders have from time to time foolishly claimed), we are now becoming increasingly marginalised as we are doomed to being consistently outvoted by the eurozone bloc.
“So the case for exit is clear.”
Lord Lawson said it was “by no means assured” that Mr Cameron would win the 2015 general election, but said, even under Labour, public demand would force a referendum.
While there would be “some economic cost” from leaving the EU single market, Lord Lawson said “in my judgment the economic gains would substantially outweigh the costs.”
We (need to) not turn our backs on it because doing so would make us less safe and less prosperous. Nick Clegg
“The foolish and damaging financial transactions tax, imposed against strong UK opposition, is only one example. In part this is motivated by a jealous desire to cut London down to size, in part by well-intentioned ignorance,” he said.
“The Bank of England is becoming increasingly frustrated by the mandatory nonsense emanating from Brussels.
“Escaping from this and reinforcing the escape by co-operation with the only other genuine world financial centre, the United States, would be a major economic plus.
“Those who claim that to leave the EU would damage the City are the very same as those who in the past confidently predicted, with a classic failure of understanding, that the City would be gravely damaged if the UK failed to adopt the Euro as its currency.”
However, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said leaving the European Union would jeopardise jobs and make Britain less safe.
“I think if we were to leave the European Union we would jeopardise up to three million jobs in this country,” he told ITV’s Daybreak.
“We would make ourselves less safe – we work in the European Union to go after criminals who cross borders, it would be more difficult to deal with environmental challenges which cross borders.
“We would not be taken as seriously by the Americans, for instance, who like the fact that we stand tall in our own European back yard.
The PM has always been clear: we need a Europe that is more open, more competitive, and more flexible. Downing Street
“I know the Conservatives are struggling to work out how to deal with Ukip and they keep now changing their minds – one moment they want to be in the European Union, now senior Conservatives like Nigel Lawson say they want to go out.
“I think we need to reform the European Union to make it more transparent, more efficient, more democratic where we can but not turn our backs on it because doing so would make us less safe and less prosperous.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The PM has always been clear: we need a Europe that is more open, more competitive, and more flexible; a Europe that wakes up to the modern world of competition. In short, Europe has to reform.
“But our continued membership must have the consent of the British people, which is why the PM has set out a clear timetable on this issue.”