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Cameron faces rebellion over EU

Europe, and Britain's place within it, is once again rising to the top of the political agenda.

Next month David Cameron will be faced with yet another high wire to cross when he makes his eagerly awaited speech on the European Union. It will be tricky. The Prime Minister will have to negotiate a way forward that keeps his increasingly Eurosceptic party on side, knowing Europe has for many years been a festering wound for the Conservatives – one which helped speed the political demise of some of his predecessors.

Mr Cameron has already openly professed himself a Eurosceptic but one who is opposed to a straight in-out referendum.

Yet now there is a clear warning from senior Tory sources that if he fails to placate the increasingly vociferous anti-Brussels lobby, even his leadership might be under threat.

At Westminster the figure of Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, is being talked up more and more as the Tory king across the Thames water. While a serious threat to Mr Cameron's leadership might, at the present time, be overstating things, it is clear the British public, faced with a regular diet of economic woe from the continent, is becoming less enamoured with Project Europe, particularly as it sees the EU leaders' desire, in the face of its own economic belt-tightening, to increase yet again the Brussels budget.

Not only does the PM face the heavy breath on his neck from his Eurosceptic colleagues but also the oncoming vision of the growing electoral threat from the out and out anti-Europe force that is UKIP.

Nigel Farage and his colleagues have been gaining ground in recent by-elections and opinion polls. They claim to have replaced the LibDems as the third party and their anti-EU message is posing a big problem for the Tories.

At the last election support for UKIP was said to have cost Mr Cameron an outright parliamentary majority. This year UKIP hopes to build its base on the back of the county council elections in England and, thereafter, win the largest share of the vote in the European elections in 2014.

Tory voices are urging their leader to use his Europe speech to get ahead of the curve, to post a clear and strong Conservative position ahead of the European elections and head the UKIP threat off at the pass. Of course, a Yes vote in that other referendum, on Scottish independence in 2014, would throw up a whole new series of questions on Europe.

Yesterday, the Europhile Nick Clegg insisted the Tory Eurosceptics were "putting the cart before the horse" and that it was surely right to concentrate on putting out the eurozone firestorm before trying to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU.

He has a point. The kaleidoscope is still being shaken and to decide now, before the EU pieces have settled, on the nature and extent of our relationship would be premature and misguided.

By 2015 it will be 40 years since Britons voted to stay in the Common Market. The European club has changed dramatically since then and as the eurozone integrates further, it will change again.

When the picture on Europe becomes clearer, ahead of the next General Election, the people of Britain will deserve to know where all the main parties stand and, at some stage thereafter, have their say on what the new settlement for Britain in Europe will be.

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