With friends like these, who needs enemies?: Owen Paterson adds to Ukip's pressure on the PM. Photo: Getty
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Pressure builds for David Cameron's EU renegotiation as a former minister calls for UK's exit

A former Tory cabinet secretary is set to call for Britain to leave the EU, putting pressure on the Prime Minister who is preparing his renegotiation.

Owen Paterson, who was mischievous at best as a minister, since being sacked as Environment Secretary in the summer is now a regular thorn in the side for David Cameron. His latest intervention is a speech to eurosceptic business leaders, which will call for Britain to leave the EU and for the Prime Minister to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the rest of Europe instead. He is expected to emphasise to the campaign group, Business for Britain, that the UK can grow economically outside of the European Union.

This intervention comes at a difficult time for David Cameron, who is putting the finishing touches on a big speech about immigration, which he is expected to deliver very soon. What he unveils concerning immigration from the European Union will come under intense scrutiny, due to the rise of Ukip taking votes from his party mainly due to its policy on migration and Britain's place in the EU. Being asked outright by a former minister to take the UK out of the EU, as part of the renegotiation of its EU membership ahead of his promised in/out referendum in 2017, adds to the pressure Ukip is already placing on Cameron and the Conservative party. It is also likely to exacerbate the divisions over Europe in the party that have constantly been bubbling to the surface during this parliament.

The Telegraph reports that Paterson will say:

Our democratic institutions and not just our common law system but our respect and adherence to the rule of law, have been exported around the world. We simply do not need to have our lives ruled by an organisation in which our own elected politicians can be overruled by unelected civil servants and whose concept of government emerged from the horrors of the First World War.

Paterson will also moot an alternative to the UK's EU membership. He will state that his preferred option is for Britain to be like Norway, forging a free-trade agreement with European countries, including access to the single market. This view is held by many of the eurosceptics on Cameron's backbenches, and is something the Prime Minister will have to counter soon, whether it be in his immigration speech or otherwise.

Following the Tory defeat at the Rochester and Strood by-election last Friday, Ukip is continuing to make life difficult for a Prime Minister who cannot, and has said he will not, propose to take the country out of the European Union. But with high-profile figures in the Tory party now publicly proposing alternatives to our EU membership, it now seems like a case for Cameron of "with friends like these, who needs enemies?"

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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