Lawson, chancellor of the exchequer from 1983-89 under Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher, said it was time for Cameron to set out red lines in his attempts to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU before an in/out referendum by the end of 2017.
He said he had accepted the position as president of Conservatives for Britain, saying he believed Cameron was unlikely to achieve significant concessions in his renegotiation such as controlling migration from EU countries to Britain.
“A number of my colleagues in the Conservative Party are waiting to see what the prime minister negotiates before deciding which way they will vote or whether they will campaign for ‘in’ or ‘out’,” he wrote in the Times yesterday.
“We cannot afford to wait that long. If we leave the playing field vacant less moderate, xenophobic voices will dominate the debate and we will fail as soon as the government, the major political parties, the (Confederation of British Industry) and trade unions declare that they are backing the ‘in’ campaign.”
Lawson’s announcement comes after Ukip head Nigel Farage threw his support behind The Leave.EU group, backed by eurosceptic millionaire Arron Banks.
Most opinion polls show that Britons back staying in the EU, but views are volatile and there are some indications that perceptions could be shifting in response to the migration crisis which has engulfed Europe.
One poll published on Monday had the ‘out’ camp slightly ahead, while another the same day indicated greater support for people voting to stay in the EU.