Britain's Hague seeks to fend off rebellion over Europe

22nd October 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Foreign Secretary William Hague sought Saturday to fend off a rebellion within his Conservative party over Europe, warning that a proposed referendum on EU membership would hurt the economy.

Hague, a senior member of Prime Minister David Cameron's Tories, said he would like to see some powers returned from Brussels to London but the priority was resolving the debt crisis engulfing the eurozone.

His remarks came ahead of a non-binding but politically significant vote in the House of Commons on whether to hold a referendum, at which up to 85 Tory lawmakers could defy Cameron's order and back a national vote.

"As a Conservative, I want to bring powers back from Europe, as we set out in our election manifesto," Hague wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"But a referendum on Britains membership of the EU, especially at this time of profound economic uncertainty, is not the answer."

He added: "The sudden holding of a referendum on leaving the EU would add to economic uncertainty at a time when businesses need all the certainty and confidence they can get."

At least 61 Tory MPs have signed a motion calling for a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU, leave or renegotiate its membership and one senior lawmaker, Mark Pritchard, warned up to 85 could back it.

A parliamentary committee ordered the vote after more than 100,000 Britons signed a petition asking for a choice on the country's EU membership.

A poll for the Daily Express newspaper on Saturday found that 75 percent of people would vote in a referendum to quit the EU or renegotiate the terms.

The YouGov survey found that 15 percent would vote to maintain the status quo, 28 percent would vote to leave the EU and 47 percent would vote to change the terms of Britain's membership.

Britain last held a referendum on Europe in 1975 when a large majority of voters backed the country's continued membership in what was then the European Economic Community.

© 2011 AFP

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