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Britain would be better off economically if it left the European Union, according to Nigel Lawson, the man who ran the country’s finances between 1983 and 1989.

“I strongly suspect that there would be a positive economic advantage to the UK in leaving the single market,” Lord Lawson wrote in the Times newspaper. “In my judgment the economic gains would substantially outweigh the costs.”

Lawson is the most senior Tory politicians to support withdrawal from the EU. His voice will give credibility to his more junior party counterparts who have been calling for Prime Minister David Cameron to bring legislation for a prompt yes/no referendum on the country’s membership of the EU.

The question of Europe has been divisive for the Conservative Party for decades. The issue helped in bringing down two recent prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Lawson himself voted to stay in the EU in 1975, but said the recent debt crisis in the Eurozone has fundamentally changed the EU and that he would vote to leave it if a referendum were to be held.

Mr Cameron, who came to power in a coalition government in 2010, pleaded with his party to “stop banging on about Europe”. He promised in January to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership and to hold an “in-out” referendum if he is re-elected in 2015. However, he has not succeeded in calming his backbench MPs.

As if an internal war was not enough for the Prime Minister, the right wing UK Independence Party (UKIP) has been gaining steadily in polls and gained in last week’s local elections. It has been hinted that if Cameron does not find a solution to appease his party members, the chances of defections to UKIP may be high.

Cameron’s renegotiation policy that focuses on a new, looser relationship with Europe in order to boost the British economy attracted the support of 500 business leaders. Others fear the referendum pledge comes with years of dangerous uncertainty that will deter foreign investment in Britain and upset allies in the EU, Britain’s biggest trading partner. Trade with EU in 2012 amounted to 51 per cent, both imports and exports, according to HMRC.

The UK has been a member of the union since 1973. Cameron’s spokesman said the prime minister wants the EU to change and “wake up to the modern world of competition,” adding “our continued membership must have the consent of the British people, which is why the PM has set out a clear timetable on this issue.”

By Ali May

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Copyright © 2014 euronews

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