British politicians to launch pro-Europe group
Rival politicians launched a group Wednesday to campaign for Britain to stay in the EU after Prime Minister David Cameron said he planned to hold a referendum on membership.
Cabinet ministers Kenneth Clarke and Danny Alexander along with former minister Peter Mandelson were due to take part in the launch event for the group, called British influence.
The group said in a statement that it was "assembling an army of supporters to fight Europhobia and promote a reform and growth agenda that serves the British national interest".
Mandelson, a grandee in the opposition Labour party and former European Commissioner, was due to tell the event Wednesday that groups trying to "destroy" Britain's influence in Europe "have been allowed to get away with murder".
Clarke, a minister from Cameron's Conservative party, was to back his prime minister's calls for reform of the EU, while adding that Britain was "immensely powerful as part of a market of 500 million people."
Alexander, a junior treasury minister from the Liberal Democrat party which is in coalition with the Conservatives, was to say that Cameron's plan to repatriate significant powers from the EU was "nonsensical."
"We can offer a more compelling alternative: a strong UK, influential in Europe and so more influential in the world. Stronger with America and China, because we are at the heart of the EU," he was to say.
In a long-awaited speech, Cameron said on January 23 that he would first renegotiate the terms of Britain's EU membership and hold a referendum by the end of 2017 giving Britons the choice of staying in or leaving the EU.
Cameron has been under pressure from the eurosceptic right wing of his Conservative party to take action on Europe, while polls have also showed that a majority of Britons would opt to leave the bloc.
But his referendum plan has also caused tensions within the coalition and prompted criticism from European allies as well as the United States.
© 2013 AFP