Kate Hoey, the former Home Office minister under Tony Blair who is one of the most prominent Eurosceptics in the Labour party, is being lined up as a possible leader of the no campaign in the referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
A leading Labour donor who is expected to bankroll the “Brexit” side described Hoey, the MP for Vauxhall, as a “tough fighter” who would appeal across the political spectrum.
John Mills, who was the national director of the no campaign in the 1975 EEC referendum, said: “I think she is a very strong, feisty figure. She is respected, she is liked. She knows her own mind, she is a tough fighter, she has been around for a long while. She is a reliable cogent figure. These are very important qualities that you need in somebody who is going to lead a campaign like this.”
The intervention by Mills came as David Cameron prepared to intensify his preparations for his renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership terms. The prime minister is expected to confirm after the Queen’s speech on Wednesday that the parliamentary bill paving the way for an in/out referendum by the end of 2017 will be the first measure to be debated by MPs.
This will give the prime minister the option of holding the vote as early as next summer and is intended as a signal of his intent on the eve of a tour of European capitals to drum up support for his renegotiation plan.
The campaign to leave the EU will be known as the No campaign because the government is expected to confirm in the legislation paving the way for the referendum that voters will be asked if the UK should remain an EU member. This is in line with the recommendations of the Electoral Commission which ruled that the wording in a Tory private member’s bill in the last parliament could confuse voters. The bill had said that voters should be asked whether the UK should be an EU member, potentially confusing voters as to whether the UK is currently an EU member.
Cameron will have breakfast in Copenhagen on Thursday morning with Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish prime minister, followed by a meeting in The Hague with the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, and dinner at the Elysée Palace with the French president, François Hollande.
On Friday morning, he will meet his Polish counterpart, Ewa Kopacz, in Warsaw before flying to Berlin for lunch with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.
The prime minister was given a taste of the challenge ahead when Le Monde reported that Hollande and Merkel have agreed that reforms to the eurozone should be delivered within the EU’s current treaties. This means that Cameron is unlikely to secure the “full-on” treaty change he demanded in January, although British sources have said he might press for a legally binding protocol. This could be attached to a future revision of the Lisbon treaty or to the next accession treaty for a new EU member state.
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, confirmed that the SNP’s 56 MPs at Westminster would seek to amend the legislation enacting the EU referendum to ensure that a UK withdrawal from the EU would have to be approved by all four constituent parts of the UK.
Sturgeon said: “Since a referendum is now inevitable, we will work to protect Scotland’s interests in that referendum. We’ll propose a double majority meaning that exit from the EU would only be possible if all four nations agreed to that, something that would ensure that Scotland couldn’t be forced out of the EU against our will.”
Michael Gove, the highly Eurosceptic justice secretary, has insisted that Britain would press for “fundamental reform of our relationship with the EU”.
The prime minister faces pressure from the Thatcherite wing of the Tory party: Liam Fox warned that he would campaign for a no vote unless Cameron delivered a “looser” common market-style relationship with the EU. The former defence secretary dismissed the idea of an early referendum as he called for negotiations that would go much further than imposing restrictions on benefits on EU migrants.
Fox told The World at One on BBC Radio 4: “I want to see a looser relationship. Most people in Britain want to see us have an economic relationship with Europe, a common market if you like which is is what they voted for in the first place [in the 1975 referendum] and do not want to see the ever creeping hand of Europe over British national affairs.”
In backing Hoey, Mills voiced fears about the dangers of a campaign dominated by the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, and the need for a less combative figure. He said: “You’ve got to have some kind of balance in a no campaign to avoid it being polarised into Ukip against the rest of the country. Ukip just hasn’t got the measure of support needed to have any real of chance of winning on its own.”
Mills, who is funding the Eurosceptic Business for Britain group, said he will make a final decision on whether to support the no campaign after the conclusion of Cameron’s renegotiations. Hoey was unavailable for comment.
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