Britain will become a third-rate power, ignored by our allies and vulnerable to our enemies, if the country votes to sever its ties with Europe, the former Conservative Chancellor Kenneth Clarke has warned.
Writing in The Independent ahead of the launch of the campaign to keep Britain in the EU, Mr Clarke paints a bleak picture of a poorer, less secure country no longer able to influence its destiny in the world. And he characterises anti-Europeans in his own party as “Ukip-lite” supporters who have a “nostalgic yearning” for the past.
Mr Clarke’s attack comes as the pro-EU umbrella group Britain Stronger in Europe unveils the line-up of its supporters from politics, business, education and the arts who will spearhead the pro EU campaign.
They include the former Chief of the General Staff Sir Peter Wall, the Apprentice star and Tory peer Karren Brady, along with June Sarpong from ITV’s Loose Women.
Jude Kelly, the artistic director of the Southbank Centre, has also signed up, as have the former prime ministers Sir John Major, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.
The group will by chaired by the former Marks and Spencer boss Lord Rose and also includes Lord Harris of Peckham and the former Kingfisher chief executive Ian Cheshire.
Lord Rose is due to use the campaign’s launch at the Old Truman Brewery in the East End of London to characterise EU opponents as “quitters” who will damage Britain’s national interest.
“Those who want us to leave Europe would risk our prosperity, threaten our safety and diminish our influence in the world,” he will say.
“We know our economy would take a hit – we just don’t know how bad it would be.”
Lord Rose said he was not uncritical of the European Union but it that it was in Britain’s interest to fight for reform from within.
“As someone who has grafted all my life to build businesses, I know that no one ever changes things for the better by throwing in the towel,” he will say.
“And I don’t want our country to say, ‘We can’t cut it, we’re giving up’. Those of you who know me will know that I am not an uncritical fan of the European Union. Wanting reform, however, is not the same as wanting to leave.”
“Britain depends on our role as a leading member of the EU,” he writes. “If we leave the Union we are of less value to our allies and of less concern to our enemies. We need the strongest voice we can get in the dangerous modern world to protect our global national interests.”
He adds: “Fear of the modern world, nostalgic yearning for pre-world war sovereignty and the eventual break-up of Europe would be a disaster for our grandchildren.”
The First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon also warned that if Scotland votes to stay in the EU in the referendum before 2017, but the UK withdraws, that would almost certainly trigger another independence referendum.
She said that “so fundamentally changes the nature of the UK” that there would be “demand for another referendum”. The party has previously said a “material” change in the circumstances of Scotland’s relationship in the UK could prompt a second referendum.
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