Heavyweight politicians and business leaders have nailed their colours to the mast in the debate over Britain’s EU membership by throwing their support behind the “in” and “out” campaigns, as referendum battle lines are drawn.
The campaign for the UK to remain in the EU, Britain Stronger in Europe, officially launches today. Led by former Marks & Spencer chief executive Lord Stuart Rose, the group also counts former chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, Apprentice star Baroness Karren Brady and RLM Finsbury founder Roland Rudd among its board members.
The cross-party campaign has the backing of a swathe of politicians, including Policy Network chairman Lord Peter Mandelson, former Conservative minister Damian Green and current Green MP Caroline Lucas – not to mention former Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Sir John Major.
It is widely expected that Prime Minister David Cameron will take the helm of the campaign closer to the In/Out vote. Cameron has promised a referendum by the end of 2017, following a period of renegotiation.
Meanwhile, a cross-party campaign for the UK to leave the EU, Vote Leave, kicked off last week with the support of the Conservative party’s top donor Peter Cruddas and leading Labour backer John Mills.
Conservative MP Steve Baker, Labour MP Kate Hoey and Ukip MP Douglas Carswell have also said they are joining the campaign, as are business leaders, including Patisserie Valerie chairman Luke Johnson and hedge fund manager Crispin Odey.
The official campaign period may be months away – Cameron has yet to announce a vote date – but the PM heads for Brussels on Thursday for a two-day summit with European heads of state, where he is expected again to make the case for a renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU.
Cameron discussed the UK’s reform agenda over dinner at Chequers with German chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday.
Separately, the Treasury Select Committee is soliciting evidence for what chairman Andrew Tyrie called a “wide-ranging” investigation “into the financial costs and benefits of the UK’s membership of the EU”.