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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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.