Group of British business leaders plans campaign for EU exit

A hero to Tea Party Republicans: Nigel Farage speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Maryland, September 2015. [Gage Skidmore/Flickr]

A group of British business leaders and entrepreneurs are preparing to launch a campaign for Britain to leave the European Union at a planned membership referendum, a major donor to the UK Independence Party said.

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU ahead of a vote by the end of 2017, and is this week due to set out his reform plans in more detail at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.

The group, which the Sunday Telegraph reported would be called “No Thanks – We’re Going Global”, is backed by UKIP donor Arron Banks and property investor Richard Tice. So far it has raised 7 million pounds of a planned 20 million pounds.

“This is too important for politicians to be taking the lead, it has got to be business, and the wider public,” Banks told the paper. “They can endorse it and support it but they will not be involved in the campaign.”

Banks said the group, due to launch in September, had also been talking to sports stars and leading figures in medicine, science and the military about getting involved in the campaign.

Lawmakers from Cameron’s Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party have already formed two separate groups ready to campaign to leave the EU if the British leader does not succeed in his renegotiation efforts.

Cameron, re-elected for a second term last month, has spent the past few weeks meeting with EU leaders to discuss his plans ahead of Thursday’s European Council summit. He has said he is confident of securing concessions and favours Britain remaining in a reformed union.

The changes he is seeking include boosting the bloc’s economic competitiveness, protections for non-members of the euro zone, an opt-out from the EU’s principle of ever-closer union, and tighter curbs on EU migrants’ access to British welfare payments.

The Sunday Times reported that aides to Cameron had told Eurosceptic Conservative lawmakers that his renegotiation plans go further than he has made public, including “rebranding” Britain as an associate or trading member of the bloc.

David Cameron's surprise victory in the United Kingdom’s general election has put Britain on course to hold a referendum on its membership of the European Union, and raises questions over Scotland’s future in the UK.

The Conservatives promised an in/out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017 if they win the election, placing Europe's future at the centre of the debate.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would campaign for the UK to stay, but only if the EU was able to reform, saying “Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union.”

>> Read our LinksDossier: The UK's EU referendum: On the path to Brexit?

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