Political heavyweights battle over UK’s EU membership

​Former chancellor Nigel Lawson has warned leading business leaders that the regulatory burden imposed by the European Union is getting worse and the UK is becoming increasingly marginalised.

​​Lord Lawson, who is leading the Conservative campaign to leave the EU,​ told ​the annual Institute of Directors conference: “We must not be little Europeans. We must realise our destiny is global – that is where markets are growing fastest and where our history shows we need to be.

“We will be better off without the huge burden of European regulation.”

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Lord Lawson was pitched in a debate against pro-European former business secretary Peter Mandelson, who warned that the UK cannot leave the EU one day and re-enter the single market immediately.

Lord Mandelson said leaving the EU would leave the UK more isolated and less influential.

“The anti-Europeans say they want to leave the EU and still enjoy all the benefits. If we want access to the EU market we have to pay for it and play their rules,” he said.

The two political heavyweights were debating the UK’s membership of the EU ahead of a referendum.

Lord Lawson said the chances of achieving fundamental reform of the EU were “very slim indeed”.

​However, ​Lord Mandelson argued there is a good chance of making improvements.

“Nearly half our trade is with other European countries and a vast amount of foreign investment comes from Europe. Workers coming here from Europe are mostly young, contributing to the economy. They are not sponging off us.”

Lord Lawson said his Labour counterpart ​had an “astonishing lack of self-confidence” in the ​UK’s prospects if it left the EU​, but Mr Mandelson retorted that ​Britain has only 60m people and if it negotiated on its own, it would have to settle on China, India or America’s terms.

​Asked what the ​minimum was that Prime Minister David Cameron has to achieve to win over to Euro-sceptics, Lord Mandelson said: “​There are 80, 90 Conservative MPs who will never be satisfied so negotiation is an irrelevance.”

​Lord Lawson said ​​​Mr Cameron needs an ​explicit rejection of the objective of ever closer political union.