Labour and Lib Dems accused of 'not trusting the people' to decide the future of Britain's place in EuropeGeorge Osborne reveals Tory plan to portray rival parties as undemocraticHe dismisses warnings from Nick Clegg that years of uncertainty ahead of 2017 EU referendum will undermine growth by deterring investorsBoris Johnson attacks Labour's Ed Miliband for ruling out a vote
Warns Britain cannot 'run away' from tough choices on the economyDavid Cameron promise of a say on EU gave Tories a poll boost
IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard said the Chancellor should 'take stock' in his March Budget and London Mayor Boris Johnson has urged Mr Osborne to 'junk the rhetoric of austerity' to restore confidence in the economy.
But Mr Osborne insisted he would not change his deficit-reduction strategy. 'Britain faces a difficult economic situation,' he told BBC Breakfast said. 'We have got problems at home, built up by this unbalanced economy, problems in our financial sector and the debts we have built up.
'And, frankly, we have got problems abroad with many of our export markets deep in recession in Europe.
“We have got to do the things in the short term that will help – and we are investing in apprenticeships, unemployment is falling at the moment.
'In the end, Britain can't run away from the hard choices it faces. We have got to invest in our future, we have got to keep up with other countries who are making all sorts of investments in their economies, and we have got to deal with our debts because, in the end, if people don't believe you are going to pay your way in the world, nothing is going to be invested in.'
The Chancellor rejected the idea that a protracted renegotiation of Britain’s ties with Brussels would damage growth and be bad for business.
‘First of all, a lot of big British businesses and small businesses came out last week and said actually one of Britain’s problems are the taxes and regulations from Europe, and it’s affecting the entirety of Europe and we’ve got to keep up with Asia and America,’ he said.
‘So there is a challenge for all the businesses to try and get Europe working for us and that’s what David Cameron and myself want to do.’
Opinion polls have repeatedly suggested that Europe is low down on the list oif priority issues for most voters.
But Mr Osborne made clear the Conservative party’s intention to paint Labour and the Lib Dems as being undemocratic.
‘People watching this programme can be trusted with the decision about their future and their country’s future. I think we are going to find ourselves in a very odd situation if we get to a general election and parties like the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats are not prepared to trust the people.
‘The Conservative party is prepared to trust the people and we’re going to ask people’s consent for that after the general election.’
Boris Johnson also attacked Labour's refusal to offer a referendum on EU membership.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the London Mayor said: 'He has painted himself into a corner.
'He has entered a lobster pot, and he is going to find it hard to back out with any kind of dignity – though I have no doubt that he will soon begin to try…
'Miliband has ruled out a referendum, not because he cares about the UK or Europe, but because he wants to avoid the kind of split that sunk Labour in the 1970s and 1980s.
'It won't work. He will either do a humiliating U-turn, or go into the election with a suicidal commitment to ignore the British people.'
Coalition tensions are mounting between the Tories and Lib Dems over Europe policy.
Mr Osborne is under pressure after growth figures last week showed the economy shrank by 0.3 per cent in the last three months of 2012.
Mr Clegg has warned the prospect of any growth in the coming years will be hampered by doubts about whether of not Britain will remain i the EU.
London Mayor Boris Johnson claimed Labour leader Ed Miliband had made a 'suicidal commitment' in ruling out a referendum on leaving the EU
'Where I do differ from David Cameron is the idea that it is good for our economy and good for growth and jobs, when we have these economic problems we’ve just talked about, to then spend years and years flying around from one European capital to the next, fiddling around with the terms of Britain’s membership of the European Union,' Mr Clegg said yesterday.
'I’m very proud of that, I think that’s good for jobs and growth, and my priority will always remain a simple objective of building a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everybody to get on in life, and I think that job is made more difficult if you have years and years of tying yourself up in knots having arcane debates about the precise terms of the membership of the United Kingdom.'
Senior Tories yesterday indicated that
they would back a ‘No’ vote in the EU referendum if Britain fails to
claw back powers from Europe.
Party chairman Grant Shapps yesterday
conceded that if Britain was unable to repatriate the measures it wanted
before the referendum, ‘we’ll be in a different position’.
And Mr Johnson said in an interview: ‘Obviously logically I can’t rule out voting “No”.’
David Cameron used his long-awaited speech on Europe last week to promise a straight in-out referendum on EU membership after he has tried to claw back powers from Brussels
A survey conducted in the wake of the Prime Minister's long-awaited speech on Wednesday showed a five-point Conservative jump on last month – mostly at the expense of UKIP – halving Labour's lead to six.
The poll, by ComRes for the Sunday Mirror and the Independent on Sunday, put the Tories on 33 per cent, with Labour stood still at 39 per cent and the Liberal Democrats up two at 11 per cent.
UKIP, which has registered significant advances in recent months, fell back four points to 10 per cent.
The poll found a majority of voters backed Labour and Lib Dem warnings that Mr Cameron's position would cause 'years of uncertainty which will be bad for the British economy' by 43 per cent to 30 per cent.
But a majority also now believe that leaving the EU would in itself be bad for the economy in terms of lost jobs and trade – by 38 per cent to 36 per cent, a turnaround from November when 40% disagreed and 36 per cent agreed.