Theresa May left open the option of leading the drive for Britain to quit the European Union after the Ukip leader Nigel Farage said he would be “absolutely delighted” if she accepted the role.
Following a survey suggesting she would be the public choice to take charge of the “Brexit” campaign, the Home Secretary insisted she was only focused on renegotiating Britain's relationship with the EU.
Her comments were in contrast to David Cameron’s warning last week of the dangers to Britain of leaving the EU and attempting to strike a Norwegian-style deal with the bloc.
Ms May is regarded as more Eurosceptic than either the Prime Minister or Chancellor George Osborne, who flies to Berlin on 2 November to hold talks with German minister to discuss Britain’s demands.
Mr Cameron is expected next week to make public his demands, which will be discussed at a summit of EU leaders next month.
Ms May would be the most popular choice to head the Out campaign in the referendum promised by Mr Cameron, according to the Survation poll for the pressure group Leave.EU. She attracted the backing of 22.2 per cent of respondents ahead of Mr Farage with 18.6 per cent.
Asked on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show whether there was any prospect of her leading the campaign, she replied: “There are some people who say you should be in at all costs, there are people who say you should be out at all costs.
“Actually I say let’s do this renegotiation. Let’s see what reform we can bring about as a result of that renegotiation and then put it to the British people.”
Ms May would not say whether she instinctively backed leaving or remaining in the EU.
She said: “The decision isn’t going to be my decision individually or the prime minister’s decision individually. It will be for the British public and that’s the important thing.”
The Home Secretary has struck a Eurosceptic note in recent months, calling for limits to freedom of movement within the EU. She has also raised the prospect in the past of withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights if it is necessary to end the abuse of human rights laws.
Mr Farage told the programme that voters would support Ms May if she admitted her experience of presiding over increasing net migration had led her to support Britain’s withdrawal.
The Ukip leader said: “If [she] was to say ‘look I’ve been here, I’ve been at the sharp end, we cannot do this as EU members, we need a better way’, of course the public would come behind it. And you know what, so would I too.”
Asked if he would support her as leader of the Out campaign, he replied: “I would be absolutely delighted of course.”
In his meetings in Berlin, Mr Osborne will be seeking German backing for Britain’s demands, including an “emergency brake” to protect states outside the single currency from decisions taken by eurozone members.
He will hold talks with the Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and address an audience of German business leaders at the annual conference of the BDI, the Federation of German Industries.
Ahead of the visit Mr Osborne said: “The UK and German economies are the beating heart of Europe, the engine for growth and jobs. Together we make the world’s third-largest economy, behind only America and China and since the crisis ended, we have generated two-thirds of EU growth.
“But the future holds challenges for our economies. We must cut debt and boost productivity. To do this, we need a strong EU, fit for today’s challenges and working for the benefit of all 28 member states. The UK’s reform and renegotiation plans aim to achieve this, which is why these talks with key partners in Europe are so important.”
‘Snooper’s charter’: Judges to be in charge
MPs and peers would veto giving the police and security services the power to monitor suspects online unless judges are put in charge of issuing surveillance warrants, the Tory MP David Davis said last night. He issued the warning ahead of this week’s publication of a draft Investigatory Power Bill which will overhaul the legislation governing the interception of communications.
In the face of cross-party hostility, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has dropped plans to give the intelligence agencies full access to computer users’ internet browsing history. They will have to obtain a warrant to carry out surveillance.
According to reports on 1 November, ministers would initially issue the warrants and their decisions would be checked by security-cleared judges.
Andy Burnham, the shadow Home Secretary, said there was “broad acceptance” that new legislation was required, but called for the Government to “ensure that judges have the final say”. Lord Ashdown, the former Lib Dem leader, said it appeared that the Conservatives had abandoned the worst elements of the “snooper’s charter” proposals.
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