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UK lawmakers to weigh up economic case for EU exit

LONDON (Reuters) - British lawmakers will start an inquiry into the costs and benefits of staying in the European Union next week as campaigning gets underway for a referendum on the country’s EU membership.

The Union Jack and the EU flags fly in Ashford, southern England April 30, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Legislators from the cross-party Treasury Committee -- who normally monitor the Bank of England, finance ministry and banks -- are set to start hearing from officials this month.

“This inquiry will be wide-ranging, dealing with all the economic and financial consequences of the UK’s EU membership, and the impact of departure,” Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative lawmaker who chairs the cross-party committee, said.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who wants to hold the vote before the end of 2017, is trying to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, which many members of his party and a sizeable minority of the public want to leave.

Opponents of Britain’s EU membership launched their campaign on Friday, saying Britain would reclaim sovereignty by leaving, while an umbrella group for supporters of membership is expected to launch its campaign next week.

The lawmakers will look into issues such as the economic impact of migration by EU citizens to Britain and how Britain would be able to renegotiate trade deals if it left the EU.

A person familiar with the committee’s procedures said there would be a call for written evidence next week, followed by oral hearings. British government and Brussels officials as well as non-governmental organisations were likely to testify.

The panel will publish evidence it receives but will not necessarily produce a final report coming down on one side or other of the issue.

The Institute of Directors, a business group, called this week for an early referendum, saying uncertainty about Britain’s EU membership risked deterring investment.

Large firms generally favour membership, saying Britain benefits from easy access to European markets and migrants from elsewhere in the bloc with a population of over 500 million.

Opponents say Britain would benefit from being able to restrict the number of EU immigrants and reach better trade deals with the United States and emerging economies.

Reporting by David Milliken; editing by William Schomberg