EU referendum: Conservative Party is 'tearing itself apart' over Europe, says Labour

The North East Chamber of Commerce called for David Cameron to minimise uncertainty as the Prime Minister is at loggerheads with backbenchers

Tim Ireland/PA Wire The Union Jack pictured behind the European Union flag in London
The Union Jack pictured behind the European Union flag in London

Regional figures have warned against constant political rows over the impending EU referendum that might allow market uncertainty to spiral out of control.

The North East Chamber of Commerce said investment would be placed in jeopardy if businesses were “sidetracked by the need to address day-to-day political headlines” as MPs split over whether they will campaign to leave the EU.

Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour MP for South Shields, meanwhile, said the Conservative Party was “tearing itself apart” over the issue.

It comes amid a flurry of speculation after Prime Minister David Cameron denied saying his Government ministers - which includes Eurosceptic Stockton South MP and newly-appointed Northern Powerhouse Minister James Wharton - would be made to toe the party line of campaigning to stay in.

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

Mr Cameron was instead forced to say he was calling for support as he attempts renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU ahead of an in/out referendum by 2017.

Berwick-upon-Tweed’s new MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan has been criticised by EU campaigners after it emerged she is among more than 50 MPs who have signed up to Conservatives for Britain, a pressure group plotting to call for a ‘Brexit’ should the PM fail to achieve radical reform.

Ross Smith, director of policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said the stream of publicity was bad news for the market and said Mr Cameron must concentrate on talks with other EU leaders rather than party politics.

He said: “Given the Conservatives’ manifesto commitment is to hold a referendum after renegotiation, Government must focus on getting a good deal for our businesses and our economy, so the best case for staying in the EU can be put to voters.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan
Anne-Marie Trevelyan

“Such an important long-term consideration for our region’s businesses mustn’t be sidetracked by the need to address day-to-day political headlines, and all politicians should be careful not to unnecessarily heighten uncertainty.”

Labour figures from the region said the Europe divide highlighted a deep division in the Conservative Party following a resounding victory at the polls.

Ms Lewell-Buck said the Prime Minister had not been clear with the public on what amounted to success and failure before he jetted to the Continent to begin negotiations.

Conservatives for Britain, which has the support of former cabinet ministers Owen Paterson and John Redwood, want Britain to have sovereignty over its own laws and the power to trade freely.

Ms Lewell-Buck said: “It looks like we’re seeing the same old story from a Tory government, a party tearing itself apart over Europe. This whole situation is of David Cameron’s own making. He can’t tell us what he is negotiating for and he has no strategy to achieve change.

“Our membership of the European Union is vital for jobs, economic growth and the future of our region. Europe needs to reform but Labour will be campaigning hard to make the case for our continued membership.”

Mr Wharton, who introduced a private member’s bill on an EU referendum in the last parliament, voiced support for the Prime Minister.

“It is for everyone to choose how they vote in that referendum,” he told Today. “Of course that includes ministers. It is just that the Government will take a position too. The prime minister’s hope is that negotiation will be successful and he will be able to lead the government in campaigning for an in vote if he has been successful but ruling nothing out if he has not been successful in the renegotiations.”

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