Prime Minister David Cameron was put on notice Sunday that 50 of his own backbenchers will lead calls for Britain to quit the EU if he does not secure major concessions from Brussels.
A new group, Conservatives for Britain (CfB), has pledged to initially support Cameron’s bid to renegotiate London’s terms of membership of the 28-nation bloc.
However, the group also stands poised to lead the campaign to leave if the premier does not secure major changes, such as regaining control over free trade powers and British laws.
“Unless senior EU officials awake to the possibility that one of the EU’s largest members is serious about a fundamental change in our relationship, our recommendation to British voters seems likely to be exit,” Conservative MP Steve Baker, the CfB’s chairman in parliament, told The Sunday Telegraph.
Cameron has pledged to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union then hold an in-or-out referendum on the outcome by the end of 2017.
The premier has been on a whirlwind tour of European capitals seeking support for his touted reforms, which include making it harder for EU migrants to claim benefits in Britain and opt out of the commitment to an “ever closer union”.
Conservative European Parliament MP and CfB co-founder David Campbell Bannerman warned: “If the EU is not willing to return significant powers to our shores, then Britain should leave.
“Restricting freedom of movement of EU citizens and making the UK parliament sovereign over EU law are likely to feature heavily on our agenda.” - ‘Ground war’ over Europe - The negotiations are the first real test for Cameron after an unexpected election victory last month and a test of his mettle as the leader of a party that has long been plagued by divisions over Europe.
Meanwhile the United Kingdom Independence Party, which is anti-EU and anti-mass immigration, said Saturday it was starting the “ground war” for the campaign to leave the EU. UKIP claimed the third-biggest share of the vote (12.6 percent) in the May 7 general election, although the party only took one seat in parliament. Leader Nigel Farage said if they wait for Cameron to finish his negotiations, “the No campaign simply wouldn’t have time to organise and to mobilise”.
“The one thing Mr Cameron is not asking for, because he knows he won’t get it, is an end to the total free movement of people,” he told BBC radio. “So, as far as we are concerned there is nothing Mr Cameron is asking for that could be acceptable.”
EU powers want Britain to stay in the EU, given its role as a global commercial power with diplomatic and military muscle—and the incalculable symbolic damage its departure would do to the EU’s global standing.
But impatience has risen in continental Europe about what some see as London’s demands for special treatment and “a la carte” EU membership. “If the demands are too extreme, they are not going to be met,” Poland’s EU affairs minister Rafal Trzaskowski told The Observer newspaper.
“You cannot keep all the goodies and forget about the costs.”