Michael Howard, the former leader of the Conservative party, has hinted that he will vote to leave the European Union, saying that the government’s renegotiation is unlikely to deliver genuine reform.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, Lord Howard also said he had “a lot of sympathy” with comments made by actor Sir Michael Caine, who told Today that he was now in favour of Britain leaving the EU. “I sort of feel certain we should come out,” Caine said.
Howard has always been a strong Eurosceptic but has never formally called for Britain to leave the EU. In his interview, he said he was waiting to see the outcome of David Cameron’s EU renegotiation before deciding how to vote in the referendum expected later this year.
But he signalled that he was strongly leaning towards an “out” vote. “I have always wanted the United Kingdom to remain in a genuinely reformed European Union,” Howard said. “It is not looking very likely, I have to say, that we are going to see a genuinely reformed European Union.”
Earlier in the programme, in an interview mostly about his acting career, Caine was asked how he would vote in the EU referendum. Initially he said he was undecided: “I don’t know what to vote for. Both are scary,” Caine said.
“To me, you’ve now got in Europe a sort of government-by-proxy of everybody, which has now got carried away. Unless there are some extremely significant changes, we should get out.”
When pressed, Caine said he “sort of” felt certain that Britain should leave. Commenting on this later, Howard said: “I heard [Caine’s interview] with great interest, and had a lot of sympathy with what he said.”
Cameron is due to hold meetings with the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, and prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, in Prague later on Friday. He is travelling to the Czech Republic from the World Economic Forum at Davos.
On Thursday the prime minister said at Davos that he still hoped to conclude his EU renegotiation at a summit next month, but claimed he was “not in a hurry” and would wait if the right deal was not available then.
The key sticking point remains his call for the UK to be allowed to prevent EU migrants from claiming in-work benefits for four years after arriving in the country. This is likely to be the focus of his talks in Prague. It is a key issue for the Czech Republic and the three other members of the Visegrad group – Slovakia, Poland and Hungary – because large numbers of their citizens have come to the UK to work.
In December the group issued a joint statement saying they would back measures aimed at strengthening competitiveness and increasing the role of national parliaments, but they “consider free movement one of the fundamental values of the European Union and will support no proposal that would be discriminatory or restrictive with regard to this freedom”.
This article was written by Andrew Sparrow Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Friday 22nd January 2016 10.14 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010