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The campaign to leave the EU took 373,000 steps forward yesterday

By Tim Montgomerie

Last week The Sun handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street. They had collected about 100,000 signatures calling for a tax cut for motorists.

Yesterday the Daily Express - a newspaper with a quarter of the Sun's sales - handed in 350,000 coupons calling for a referendum on Britain leaving the EU. Readers of the Express had cut out the coupons from their newspaper, signed them, put them in an envelope, attached a stamp and sent them into the Express. Not a difficult process, of course, but in our lethargic age a significant number. Another 23,000 signed an online petition. This was just one newspaper campaigning - egged on by UKIP - but without any help from other newspapers, broadcasters or mainstream parties.

The 373,000 total compares with 200,000 signatures for the Express' campaign, from 2006/7, to abolish inheritance tax. An earlier Express petition to Gordon Brown to raise the basic state pension also received 200,000 signatures.

Opinion polls suggest the British people are ready to vote to leave the EU and I would certainly be one of them.

An independent Britain, freed from rule by European courts and bureaucrats, would do more than anything else to restore trust in politics. Directly-elected politicians would be able to control our borders again. Our fishermen and farmers would be free from EU quotas. We'd be billions of pounds better off if we no longer had to subsidise the unaudited EU budget and its growing army of regulators, foreign ambassadors and cheerleading quangoes. A Downing Street source tells me that one-third of the government's time is spent dealing with EU initiatives.

We - like other nations - could still trade freely with Europe but we could also explore joining the North American Free Trade Association. We could renew links with Commonwealth nations. The EU wouldn't stop mattering to Britain but we'd no longer be so manacled to a continent in decline.

The Express tells me that Tory MPs are likely to face pledge campaigns in the second half of the parliament, calling for them to back an in/out referendum. Given that economic woes will mean the Coalition will be very unpopular, the prospect of new issues climbing the agenda will be welcome to many of them. The Coalition must not, of course, be distracted from the primary economic tasks of controlling spending, helping create jobs, protecting living standards and generating bouyant tax revenues... but governments can do more than one thing.

Four Tory MPs already committed to a referendum - Peter Bone, Douglas Carswell, Philip Davies and Philip Hollobone - helped deliver the coupons to Number 10 yesterday. With kind permission of The Express the photographs of them doing so are republished below. They were accompanied by every Tory's favourite woman Labour MP; the redoubtable Kate Hoey, reader Alan Brown and from the Express, Patrick O'Flynn, Macer Hall and Peter Hill.




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