Two British ministers say they would vote to leave EU

Defence secretary Philip Hammond joins education secretary Michael Gove in saying he would back an exit if there was a referendum now

Britain’s education secretary Michael Gove during a broadcast of the Andrew Marr Show at the BBC studios in London yesterday

Britain’s education secretary Michael Gove during a broadcast of the Andrew Marr Show at the BBC studios in London yesterday

 

Conservative Party Eurosceptics were given a boost when two cabinet ministers publicly declared they would vote to leave the European Union on the basis of the present relationship with Brussels.

Defence secretary Philip Hammond joined education secretary Michael Gove in saying he would back a British exit if there was an immediate referendum. Both senior government figures insisted they backed David Cameron’s bid to negotiate the return of some powers and put the resulting relationship to voters in an in/out referendum by 2017 if the Tories win the next general election.

However, their comments will encourage backbenchers seeking to put pressure on the Mr Cameron to bring forward legislation enshrining that pledge in law in a bid to win back voters from the UK Independence Party.

Mr Gove said he was prepared to contemplate cutting formal ties with the EU, suggesting he was in line with public opinion in feeling it would indeed bring some benefits.

Asked about reports last year that he told friends he would vote No if there was a referendum now, Mr Gove told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show : “Yes, I’m not happy with our position with the European Union, but my preference is for a change in Britain’s relationship.”

Mr Hammond later told Pienaa r’s P olitics on BBC Radio 5 Live: “I believe that we have to negotiate a better solution that works better for Britain if we are going to stay in.”

Mr Hammond and Mr Gove, along with home secretary Theresa May, indicated yesterday that they would abstain in an expected Commons vote attacking the failure to include legislation paving the way for a referendum in the queen’s speech.

Ministers have been excluded from a free vote granted to Tory backbenchers, with about 100 tipped to take the highly unusual step of formally criticising their own government’s legislative programme. – (PA)