Former Chancellor Nigel Lawson calls for UK to leave European Union

The move piles further pressure on David Cameron over the EU issue

The former Chancellor, Lord Lawson of Blaby, as called for Britain to leave the European Union.

In a dramatic intervention into the Tory turmoil over Europe, he argues that the gains from a British departure "would substantially outweigh the costs". Lord Lawson, writing in The Times, says the EU has become a "bureaucratic monstrosity" from which the UK should break free. He says: "The case for exit is clear."

The Tory peer, who served as Baroness Thatcher's Chancellor for more than six years, doubts David Cameron's ability to repatriate some powers from Brussels to London ahead of a promised referendum on membership in 2017. He says a European superstate "is certainly not for us" and adds: "That is why, while I voted 'in' in 1975, I shall be voting 'out' in 2017."

In a move that piles further pressure on David Cameron over the issue, the former chancellor warned the Prime Minister's proposed renegotiation would only secure "inconsequential" concessions from Brussels, adding there was now a “clear” case for withdrawal.

His intervention is sure to further embolden eurosceptic MPs demanding a tougher line to halt the rise of Nigel Farage's rampant anti-EU UK Independence Party.

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.

In the wake of Ukip's surge in last week's county council elections, there is also pressure to put the strategy to a vote in the Commons in defiance of his Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

Lord Lawson, who was Margaret Thatcher's longest-serving chancellor and remains a highly-respected figure within the party, said that it was “by no means assured” that Mr Cameron would win the 2015 general election.

But he said he believed public demand was such that a referendum would have to happen under Labour in any case.

Dismissing the chances of either party securing significant reforms, he said Brussels would fear a “general unravelling” as other countries sought to match the return of powers.

“But all this is largely beside the point,” he wrote. “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.

“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.”

While there would be “some economic cost” from leaving the EU single market, he went on, “in my judgment the economic gains would substantially outweigh the costs.”

That would not only be in keeping the UK's £8 billion net contribution, but also being removed from excessive bureaucracy, not least the “frenzy of regulatory activism” affecting the banking sector.

“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.”

Quitting the single market would only have “marginal” disadvantages, he suggested, and could even have “a positive economic advantage to the UK” by forcing British firms to look further afield.

Too much UK business and industry felt “secure in the warm embrace of the European single market and is failing to recognise that today's great export opportunities lie in the developing world”, the peer wrote.

“Just as entry into the Common Market half a century ago provided a much needed change of focus, so might leaving the EU, an institution that has achieved its historic purpose and is now past its sell-by date, provide a much-needed change of focus today.”

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.”

Liberal Democrat leader 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.

He added: "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 .

"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 theEuropean 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."

"Just having a referendum in response to nothing is a slightly odd thing to do," Mr Clegg told Daybreak.

"Let's have a referendum when the next time the rules in the European Union change... when new powers have to be given up from the UK to the European Union, then I think we absolutely must have a referendum.

"In fact I believe that so much that we legislated on it as a Government just back in 2011 to give people a guarantee that there will be a referendum when the rules of the European Union change next time."

Mr Clegg said EU membership was part of an "anguished" debate among Tories.

"Of course it's part of an anguished debate within the Conservative Party; they have had it before and they are no doubt going to have it again," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Britain would face "huge negative consequences" if it withdrew from the EU, according to Richard Corbett, special adviser to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

The former Labour MEP told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "People are simply waiting to see what it is Britain might put on the table.

"There's a lot of talk of renegotiation but nobody has actually said exactly what they would want to change, apart from ideas floating around but there's nothing actually being put on the table by the British Government."

He went on: "If confronted with a factual discussion on the European Union and also with the huge negative consequences of withdrawal, I think there is a good chance that a referendum will vote to stay in."

Mr Cameron remains "confident" that his strategy "will deliver results", 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," he said.

"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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most