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Britain's 'Ins' and 'Outs' brace for EU referendum tussle

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Britain’s main pro-European lobby will go into battle next week to persuade voters they will be better off opting to stay in the EU in a referendum which Prime Minister David Cameron could call as early as next year.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron walks back to his hotel after appearing on television on the third day of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester northern Britain, October 6 , 2015. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s ties with the European Union before a vote by the end of 2017, but the campaigns say they cannot wait until he comes back with a deal.

Two sources with knowledge of the matter said the main ‘in’ campaign would launch on Monday. A group seeking to be the main ‘out’ campaign will also launch soon, one of the organisers told Reuters.

The ‘in’ campaign will include Labour politician Will Straw, and Lucy Thomas, who directs Roland Rudd’s pro-EU business coalition. It will be funded by individuals such as businessman David Sainsbury.

“We will have an event on Monday. It will be the first ‘in’ campaign event,” a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

“We are the optimists: We want Britain to be strong, outward-looking, confident and inside the EU,” another source from the ‘in’ campaign said.

Their opponents are due to start a second ‘out’ campaign after Leave.EU kicked off with support from the UK Independence Party last month.

The second ‘out’ group is being organised by a prominent campaigner for lower taxes, Matthew Elliott, and will be aligned with political groups such as Conservatives for Britain and Labour for Britain.

“We will be the main out campaign,” Elliott told Reuters. He said the campaign would be launched imminently.

“We are unlikely to get the sort of changes that we feel that we need for the UK to want to remain in the EU. Campaigns take ages to set up so you cannot leave it until the prime minister comes back,” Elliott said.

The two ‘out’ campaigns take distinctly different tones: Leave.EU takes an anti-establishment pitch and is supported by UKIP’s Nigel Farage, the Democracy Movement, Global Britain and the Bruges Group.

Elliott’s campaign will bring together Eurosceptic Conservative and Labour politicians and business people who want EU reforms but believe Cameron will fail to win meaningful changes from Brussels.

Tensions between the two out campaigns are already apparent: each wants the Electoral Commission to make it the official ‘out’ lobby.

“It is a bit unfortunate we have a bit of to and fro but the process of designation is a competitive process,” said Steve Baker, a lawmaker from Cameron’s party who chairs the Conservatives for Britain group.

“We are going to build the cross party campaign and we believe we will win designation and then we will be the one voice,” Baker said. “We should all line up together and appeal to our own voters.”

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Elizabeth Piper and Kylie MacLellan; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Ruth Pitchford