Britain’s most senior Conservative MEP has said he will vote for the UK to leave the European Union at the 23 June referendum.
Syed Kamall is the leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, the third largest in the European Parliament, and a MEP for London.
Sources said Kamall was on “risky territory” and that “murmurings about his position” from non-Tory parties in the group have already started.
As leader of the ECR, Kamall represents many parties and not just the British Conservatives. Those parties could be unhappy with being led by a Brexit-supporter because they back Britain’s continued membership.
Which way Kamall would eventually go was the subject of much discussion in the Parliament. An estimated five MEPs, including him, now back Brexit.
About four are as yet undeclared, with the remaining 11 backing remain, and by extension the deal brokered by Prime Minister David Cameron to keep Britain in the bloc.
Kamall was said to be torn between his loyalty for Cameron and to close Eurosceptic allies Dan Hannan MEP and Martin Callanan, his predecessor as ECR chief.
His prolonged indecision had led to some MEPs running a book on when he would take a position.
He told London’s Evening Standard that his reasons for picking Brexit were immigration and his concerns that the UK would eventually be forced to take on the euro.
Despite his rejection of the Cameron deal, Kamall said he was proud of the deal and that he would work to get it approved by the European Parliament.
Richard Corbett MEP, of Labour, said, “I don’t think this is a major blow to the Remain campaign but it does illustrate the fact that Cameron has been unable to convince as big a share of his party as he would have liked.”
Kamall’s decision was not an intellectual judgement, said Corbett, but was likely motivated by a desire to please Tory Eurosceptic who select who will stand as MEPs.
“The ECR group as a whole doesn’t want Britain to leave the EU, he said, “So this might cause some ructions in the group.”
MEP Catherine Bearder, a Liberal Democrat, said, “It is difficult to see how Syed Kamall can credibly stay on as group leader. His group are called the conservatives and reformists, not the conservatives and Brexiteers.”
An ECR spokesman said, “Dr Kamall has himself made it clear that this is his personal position and not that of the ECR Group.”
Beatrix Van Storch MEP has already called on Kamall to resign. She is one of the two Alternative für Deutschland MEPs that are expected to be expelled from the ECR.
Alternative für Deutschland’s links to the far-right Freedom Party of Austria was the final straw for members of the EU Parliament’s European Conservatives and Reformists group, which yesterday (8 March) voted to kick out the German Eurosceptics .
The boss of pubs group JD Wetherspoon has backed the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, breaking ranks with other leaders of major listed companies who have highlighted the economic risks of so-called Brexit.
Tim Martin, founder and chairman of the chain of more than 900 pubs, said on Friday he supported the principle of free movement of people and trade in Europe, but added political decisions should not be made by an “unaccountable body”.
He said it made no sense for decisions on sensitive issues, such as migration, to be “decided by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels” rather than national parliaments.
British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union. The renegotiation will be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.
After last week's European Council, where a reform deal was agreed, Cameron will campaign to stay in with the referendum date set for 23 June.
EU leaders had their red lines, and ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.
The decision on whether to stay or go could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.
- 23 June: Referendum