25th Oct 2016

Cameron EU speech brought forward to avoid diplomatic row

  • Walking the EU tight-rope? (Photo: University Hospitals Birmingham)

David Cameron is to give his long-awaited speech on Britain's place in the EU on Friday (18 January), four days earlier than planned to avoid the anniversary of a Franco-German friendship treaty.

The prime minister had planned to lay out his thoughts on Europe on 22 January but it clashed with the 50th anniversary of the Elysee treaty, a reconciliation pact between the two countries.

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The run-up to the speech has been beset by other PR problems too. It will be held in the Netherlands but Dutch liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte - thought to share some of London's thinking on EU issues - is not planning on attending.

Meanwhile details of the speech are likely to be circulated to other European capitals in advance of Friday.

The Tory leader is expected to promise that he will use any further revision of the EU treaties, including plans to increase the economic and fiscal integration of the eurozone, to rewrite Britain's membership terms.

Although Cameron does not favour an 'in/out' referendum, he is expected to announce that renegotiating Britain's membership terms will form part of the Conservative party's election manifesto for the next parliamentary elections in 2015.

However, this is unlikely to appease his party's supporters.

A survey by the Conservative Home website found that 48 percent of Conservative members wanted a referendum on EU membership either before or on the same day as the 2014 European Parliament elections in June.

Meanwhile, only 16 percent of those surveyed backed Cameron's strategy to repatriate powers, with 40 percent wanting Britain's membership to be restricted just to access to the single market and 38 percent wanting to leave the bloc.

Cameron is also coming under pressure from his own MPs. The 'Fresh Start' group of over 100 backbench Conservative MPs is expected to publish a paper this week demanding the repatriation of a wide range of EU laws, including crime and policing and social policy.

Several cabinet ministers, including Chancellor George Osborne, have also broken ranks, claiming that Britain would have to leave the EU if other countries refused to agree to their demands.

Pro-Europeans have also entered the debate. Last week the cross-party Centre for British Influence in Europe, including veteran Conservative minister Ken Clarke and former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, was launched, promising to make a "patriotic case" for Britain's EU membership.

The opposition Labour party has so far refused to promise a referendum. Opposition leader Ed Miliband described Cameron's strategy as "an incredible gamble" with Britain's future and accused Cameron of "sleepwalking" Britain to exit the EU.

Cameron's coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, led by former MEP Nick Clegg, also oppose any changes to Britain's status.

CORRECTION- The original article stated that the Elysee Treaty established the Coal and Steel Community. This was incorrect.

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