The Times allotted a front page slot today to the news that Lord Lawson has joined Conservatives for Britain as their President. It’s a boost for Steve Baker and David Campbell Bannerman’s campaign group to sign up such a heavyweight figure – Lawson has a standing that undoubtedly brings new clout to the organisation.
It also strengthens the Outists’ position. As I reported earlier in the week, Conservatives for Britain has not yet formally declared its support for a Leave vote in the referendum, on the basis that it has always said it will assess the fruits (if any) of the renegotiation. However, Lawson’s own views on the matter are clear – in an opinion piece in the same paper he condemns the failings of the EU on every front – the democratic deficit, the economic disasters, the failure to address the migrant crisis and others.
Lawson’s expectations of the renegotiation are as low as my own:
“…our government has called for fundamental reforms to the UK’s relationship with the EU, including “full-on treaty change”. But it has already been rebuffed. This is not David Cameron’s fault, indeed I applaud his attempts to get change, but the EU is simply not set up to allow individual countries to try to wind back the ratchet. This is why he has already watered down demands including a return of control over key parts of our economy, such as business policy. No longer are we asking for the Charter of Fundamental Rights not to apply in the UK and we seem to have given up on plans to limit the number of EU migrants who can move here each year.”
Crucially, he establishes four red lines as a bare minimum to even consider staying:
“My priorities would be fourfold: the end of the automatic supremacy of EU law over UK law; the ability for the UK to negotiate its own free trade deals with fast-growing countries such as India and China; the ability to control immigration from other EU countries to the UK; and the explicit renunciation by the EU of its absolute commitment to “ever-closer union”.”
Each of these is a far more radical change than the EU will consider, and each would require treaty change – something the EU institutions and various member states are not willing to countenance. That leads to the conclusion that, as he expects, he will be campaigning for Leave.
For those questioning whether Conservatives for Britain itself will come out for Leave, the organisation is formally holding its counsel and assessing the renegotiation as planned. But it’s worth looking back to its own red lines from its launch, as set out by Steve Baker in the Sunday Telegraph in June:
“…an end to “ever closer union”, reduced regulation for small businesses and start-ups, domestic control over social and employment law, protection for the City, exemption from Eurozone intervention, fast-track trade deals, a reduced EU budget, greater transparency, migration controls for member states and the right for Britain to veto EU laws.”
That’s just as exacting a set of requirements as Lawson’s. As time ticks by without any sign of the Government’s renegotiation even asking for all those things, still less securing them and underpinning them with treaty change, the Outists’ hand grows ever stronger.