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?”