LONDON – Heavyweight political rivals Kenneth Clarke and Peter Mandelson will join forces to lobby for Britain to stay in the EU as David Cameron prepares to reveal his position, the Observer newspaper reported Sunday.
The pair will fight calls — particularly from the right wing of Cameron and Clarke’s Conservative Party — for Britain to cut its links to the Union.
Liberal Democrat peer Chris Rennard will join Clarke and Labour grandee Mandelson in fronting the Center for British Influence through Europe (CBIE). It will champion a cross-party “patriotic fightback for British leadership in Europe.”
The organization will be launched at the end of the month, according to the report.
CBIE Director Peter Wilding said he hoped for a mature debate on the bloc’s future.
“Both Mandelson and Rennard are closely involved in our policy and campaign strategy,” he told the Observer.
“Having them with Ken Clarke on one platform, we think, says something in itself about the need for grown-up, consensual politics on Europe. We would argue — and many in the Tory party would agree — that disengagement from Europe is profoundly contrary to Britain’s national interests.”
The revelation came shortly after it was reported that an influential group of Euroskeptic Tory lawmakers were pushing for Cameron to take a more extreme stance on Britain’s relationship with Europe.
According to details leaked in the Sunday Telegraph, lawmakers from the Fresh Start group will demand that Britain ignore its treaty obligations unless its relationship with the EU is radically altered. Downing Street has said Cameron will give his long-awaited speech on Europe in mid-January.
Cameron is under intense pressure from Euroskeptic members of his party, including London Mayor Boris Johnson, who called in a speech last month for a purely trade-based relationship with Brussels. But Cameron’s plans have raised concerns among business leaders, who wrote him an open letter warning that a renegotiation of membership risked an exit from Europe, with “damaging” consequences for the economy.
The impending speech has intensified both sides of the debate, drawing out high-profile criticism of the prime minister.