David Cameron 'has no negotiating hand to speak of' in Brussels, claims Nigel Lawson

Ex-chancellor criticises the Prime Minister's handling of the EC president's election

POLITICAL EDITOR

David Cameron's woes over Europe deepened last night after a senior member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet said the current Prime Minister had thrown away his entire negotiating hand in Brussels.

Former chancellor Nigel Lawson, in an interview with The Independent on Sunday, said Mr Cameron should have threatened to campaign for Britain to leave the EU as a way of strengthening his negotiating position with fellow European leaders. Instead, the Prime Minister had "made it quite clear that he doesn't want to exit … so he has no negotiating hand to speak of", Lord Lawson said.

The withering criticism will add to the pressure on Mr Cameron following the election of Jean-Claude Juncker, an arch-federalist opposed only by Britain and Hungary, as European Commission president by an overwhelming majority of European leaders in Brussels on Friday. The Prime Minister has admitted that it would now be a tougher fight to persuade British voters to remain in the EU in the 2017 referendum. With Mr Juncker triumphant, Mr Cameron also faces a difficult task negotiating a new relationship with Brussels.

The Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, said yesterday that there was now concern that Britain would quit the EU – in a sign that Lord Lawson's strategy to threaten to leave would have worked.

Ed Miliband claimed Mr Cameron's handling of the election posed a "clear and present danger" to the British economy, which he said would undermine three million jobs in this country dependent on membership of the EU. The Labour leader will attempt this week to shift the focus from Europe on to the economy. This includes backing a proposal by Lord Adonis for £6bn of Whitehall expenditure to be distributed among the regions – treble the current amount pledged by the coalition.

Yesterday, cabinet ministers rushed to support Mr Cameron amid headlines declaring that Britain was closer to the EU exit door. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, described the Prime Minister as "brave" to tackle the status quo in Europe. Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, said Mr Cameron had shown reform was "not just for Britain's sake, but for the sake of all the people of Europe".

Even if Mr Cameron wins the election and instructs his Cabinet to back him in campaigning to remain in the EU, some Tory figures were suggesting that some Eurosceptic ministers would rebel and campaign for Britain to leave, causing a damaging split in a Conservative government.

Lord Lawson was speaking to The IoS before last week's vote on Mr Juncker, but on the wider issue of Mr Cameron's ability to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU ahead of a referendum in 2017.

Asked whether the Prime Minister could threaten to withdraw in the run-up to the referendum, Lord Lawson said: "Yes, but he hasn't. That is what's surprising, that he's made it quite clear that he doesn't want to exit, which doesn't strengthen his negotiating hand …. If David Cameron had said, 'Well, I'm not sure how to vote. It depends on what I am able to negotiate', that would have been a stronger hand. But he's actually made it clear he's going to vote for 'in' irrespective, so he has no negotiating hand to speak of."

The former chancellor, who is close to George Osborne, compared Mr Cameron's position with the last time British membership of the EU was last put to a referendum. "[Cameron] might do a Harold Wilson – whether the public will believe it as they did in 1975 is another matter. What Harold Wilson did, and David Cameron is following in his footsteps, he said that he didn't agree with the terms that Ted Heath had negotiated, he was going to renegotiate the terms and then he put it to the people in a referendum. Through the long renegotiation, we got absolutely damn all – indeed, I doubt there's anyone alive today who can remember what he did get out of it, it was so trivial – but he presented it as a great success, and people bought it. I think David Cameron could try to do the same; he will get very little and he will present it as something."

The Financial Times reported that, following talks in Sweden earlier this month with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, Mr Reinfeldt and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Mr Cameron considered a change in strategy by threatening to campaign for Britain to leave. Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne and Foreign Secretary William Hague discussed bringing forward the 2017 referendum, or even threatening that Britain would campaign to leave unless he got what he wanted, the FT reported.

Mr Miliband said: "David Cameron and the Conservative Party now pose a clear and present danger to our economy. The choice is between Labour which would win the argument and build alliances for reform or David Cameron who by his own admission is taking the country towards the exit door, threatening three million jobs across the UK."

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said Mr Cameron was now in an impossible position to negotiate Britain's relationship with Brussels.

A Downing Street spokesman said that after Mr Cameron vetoed EU treaty change in 2011, commentators had called it a crisis for the Prime Minister, adding: "Since then we have formed alliances to cut the EU budget for the first time in history."

News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Deputy Education Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager (permanent ...

Science Teacher Urgently required for October start

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

ICT Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Art & Design Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering