Former British chancellor of the exchequer Nigel Lawson has called for the UK to leave the European Union, saying it is no longer in the country’s economic interest to remain in the bloc.
Mr Lawson said he would vote for Britain’s exit in a referendum that may be held in 2017, arguing that the costs of remaining part of the union outweigh the transitional costs of leaving.
Responding, Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the former chancellor was rehearsing arguments that are part of an “anguished debate” in the Conservative Party.
“The heart of the matter is that the very nature of the European Union and of this country’s relationship with it had 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 part.”
Mr Lawson, who was chancellor from 1983 to 1989 under Margaret Thatcher, added: “That is why, while I voted ‘in’ in 1975, I shall be voting ‘out’ in 2017.”
Mr Lawson, who now sits in the House of Lords, is the most senior Conservative to say Britain should leave the EU. His intervention comes days after the party lost seats in local elections to the UK Independence Party, which campaigns for Britain to pull out of the EU.
Mr Lawson compared prime minister David Cameron’s promise of a plebiscite by late 2017 on whether to remain in the EU on new terms or leave with Harold Wilson’s 1975 referendum on membership of the then European Economic Community. He said any changes secured by Mr Cameron with the EU would be “inconsequential”. Mr Cameron said he will argue for Britain to stay inside the EU.
Mr Clegg, whose party is pro-Europe, told BBC Radio 4 that a British exit from the EU would cost three million jobs and lead to a loss of influence in Washington, Beijing and Tokyo.
Peter Kellner, president of polling company YouGov, said a survey last month showed 43% of voters want to leave the EU compared with 35% who say the UK should stay in.
When asked whether the UK should stay in under new terms, a majority favours remaining part of the bloc.
Mr Cameron’s pledge to hold a referendum on EU membership if the Tories are re-elected in the 2015 general election has earned rebukes from across Europe and within his own coalition for creating greater uncertainty at a time of economic turmoil.
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