LONDON Prime Minister David Cameron's new Eurosceptic Cabinet of ministers reflects public opinion, the new defense minister said on Wednesday, saying the British leader wants to win back voters who had defected to an anti-EU party before next May's election.
Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party, the senior partner in a two-party coalition, on Tuesday pushed through his biggest government shake-up since coming to power. He has promised to try to renegotiate Britain's European Union ties before holding a membership referendum in 2017 if he wins next year's national vote.
"It's certainly a Eurosceptic cabinet, but the country is Eurosceptic now. We think Europe has been on the wrong lines," newly appointed Defence Minister Michael Fallon, who has previously said the party would campaign to leave the EU if it couldn't secure EU reforms, told BBC radio.
Philip Hammond, appointed foreign secretary on Tuesday, has expressed similar views on the negotiation and is regarded as a tough Eurosceptic, while Cameron sacked Ken Clarke, his most pro-EU minister. He also dismissed Dominic Grieve, the government's top lawyer, a move seen as paving the way for a pledge to exit the European Convention on Human Rights.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which wants an immediate EU exit, won May's European elections in Britain, a vote in which Cameron's Conservatives were beaten into third place. Opinion polls show a referendum on Britain's membership of the bloc could be close with many voters disenchanted with what they view as its overly large influence on British life.
"We certainly want people who may have flirted with UKIP at the recent European election to understand how we can get change in Europe and to understand that the Conservative party is the only party that can actually deliver that change," said Fallon.
Clarke, a Europhile who lost his job as minister without portfolio, said on Wednesday that Cameron's new Cabinet was the most Eurosceptic since before former Conservative prime minister Harold Macmillan came to power in 1957.
(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Andrew Osborn)