As parliament staggers to a close many Tories chase the European question.
A leading backbench MP has called for an audit on Britain’s relationship with the European Union, in a further ratcheting up of tensions within the Conservative party as it enters the last month of this parliament.
Brian Binley, treasurer of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, believes that the costs to Britain are probably too high, and therefore the country should withdraw and set up a trade relationship with the supranational state.
“At some point, and we have in all likelihood already have passed it, being a full EU member is too costly politically and economically for a country like the UK,” he said. “We don’t need the full gym membership.
“The cost-effective route is then one of separate association treaties, with current key titles removed. In effect, that takes us to being of the EU but not in the EU, rather like Churchill’s way of looking at our relationship with the continent: associated, but not absorbed.”
Calculating the costs and benefits of the EU is far from an easy task, especially given the uncertain results of negotiations that would follow if Britain decided to pull out.
Even so Binley’s remarks will increase tensions within the Conservative party over Britain’s place in Europe, which have only heightened as the UK Independence Party has advanced in the polls on a wave of rhetoric concerning migration, national identity and bureaucracy.
Whilst the government of prime minister David Cameron remains mostly in favour of EU membership, many in the so-called “awkward squad” of backbenchers oppose the relationship, having successfully pressed him for a referendum on the matter should the Conservatives lead the next parliament after the general election in May.
As part of these plans plans Cameron will seek to negotiate new terms with the EU on Britain’s membership, a prospective deal Binley referred to as “nugatory”, liable to stifle reform and fail to secure Britain’s membership in the long term.
John Redwood, a former Welsh secretary and leadership contender of the Conservatives, has also promised to vote to withdraw from the EU if Cameron fails to secure favourable terms, and contributed the forward to a paper on the subject from the think tank Civitas, released today.
“If [Cameron] has gained us a new relationship based on trade and political cooperation I will vote for it,” Redwood said. “If the negotiation falls short of restoring our authority over the things that matter I will vote to leave.”