Former Cabinet colleagues clash over EU benefits

Posted On: 
25th May 2015

Lord Hill has come under fire from a former Conservative Cabinet colleague after he said there was an “extraordinarily strong case” for Britain to remain part of the European Union.

Conservative MP Owen Paterson

Owen Paterson, the former Environment Secretary, said Lord Hill had to be “careful not to mislead the British people” when he argued that Britain gained economically from its membership.

The peer, who was appointed by David Cameron in 2014 as the UK’s European Commissioner, said yesterday Britain’s strategic interests could suffer if it decided to leave the EU in the upcoming referendum, which has been promised before the end of 2017.

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He told The World This Weekend: “It’s true in politics, as in life, that you can’t have your cake and eat it. You can’t have easy access to the single market, you can’t be part of free trade negotiations, you can’t be part of an effective European diplomacy without being a full member of it.”

But Mr Paterson, who served in the same Cabinet team as Lord Hill during the last parliament, said the commissioner was “wrong” and that Britain could still enjoy the economic benefits without being a full member.

“All members of the establishment have got to be careful not to mislead the British people and we are seeing increasingly a misleading narrative going out that it’s the EU that delivers the three million jobs which have been talked about, delivers prosperity,” Mr Paterson told BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

“The EU is not synonymous with the market... it’s the market that delivers the jobs and prosperity. And there is this caricature being put about that should we leave the current political and judicial arrangements we leap into some crazy economic black abyss.”

Leaving the EU, the Tory MP added, would help Britain to “regalvanise” the single market and cooperation with the Anglosphere.

The row comes ahead of David Cameron kicking off a diplomatic push to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

The Prime Minister hosts European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at Chequers this evening and will travel to Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Poland and Germany on Thursday and Friday.