Eric Pickles says EU membership 'needs to be in our interest'

Eric Pickles Eric Pickles said he hoped it would prove to be in the UK's national interests to remain in the EU

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Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said the UK should only remain a part of the EU if it suits its own national interest, but not "stay at any price".

Mr Pickles told the BBC he would not vote along party lines in a future referendum on the UK's EU membership.

"I'll be voting on what I think is the interests of the country," he said.

David Cameron is expected to announce in a speech later this month that his party will offer a referendum after the next election.

'New faith'

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live, Mr Pickles said: "If it's in our clear national interest that we should remain in the European Union - and I sincerely hope that is the case - then we should stay, but we shouldn't stay at any price.

"It shouldn't be something that becomes a yardstick of some kind of new faith. It should be really about: 'Is it in the national interest?'.

Analysis

David Cameron will set out his vision of Britain's relationship with the EU in a much-heralded speech next week.

He is in favour of bringing some powers - especially on economic and social policy - back from Brussels to Britain.

If he is prime minister after the next election, he'd want to negotiate a new relationship - and it's likely the terms of any deal would be subject to a referendum.

But the question the prime minister's critics raise is what happens if he is able to repatriate fewer powers than many of his MPs would wish?

The Communities Secretary Eric Pickles gave his answer last night.

"Not 'is it in the interest of the Conservative party or the Labour party or Liberal Democrats or trade unions'. Whether it's in the national interest or not."

Last week, Lord Heseltine criticised the prime minister's European strategy, saying an "ill-advised" referendum would jeopardise the UK's business prospects.

The Tory peer, and David Cameron's adviser on growth, said offering a referendum on EU membership would be a "punt" that would "drive away inward investment".

However, many Conservatives have been pressuring the government to commit to a referendum on the question of whether the UK remains in the EU - a so-called "in-out vote".

Mr Cameron has faced pressure to hold a referendum on Europe at some stage during the next Parliament and has been criticised by some in his own party for not doing more to distance the UK from the EU.

He wants the UK to remain within the EU but believes there is a need to redefine the relationship in light of moves towards further integration by countries using the single currency.

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