Tuesday

7th Jul 2020

Cameron: referendum on EU opt-outs, not membership

  • Cameron (c): the Amsterdam speech is being closely watched by EU countries and by the US (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

British leader David Cameron has given a foretaste of his big speech in Amsterdam on Friday (18 January) by saying he does not support an in/out referendum, but wants to renegotiate EU-UK relations.

Speaking during his regular question time in the House of Commons on Wednesday, he said: "I do not think it would be right for Britain to have an in/out referendum today, because we would be giving the British people a false choice."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

But he added: "Throughout Europe, countries are looking at forthcoming treaty change and thinking: 'What can I do to maximise my national interest?' That is what the Germans will do. That is what the Spanish will do. That is what the British should do."

He indicated he will call for a referendum on EU relations, but that the question will be limited to whether British citizens support his plans for a UK opt-out on certain EU laws.

"Is it not in Britain's national interest to argue for changes which ... will strengthen and sort out the relationship between Britain and the European Union, and then to ask the British people for their consent?" he noted.

For his part, the centre-left opposition Labour party chief, Ed Miliband, said that any referendum plan risks opening a can of worms.

"Can he confirm that he is now giving the green light to Conservative cabinet ministers to campaign on different positions - on whether they are for or against being in the European Union?" he asked.

Other opposition MPs also voiced concerns.

"Thirty-nine people suspected of serious child sex offences who fled the country have been brought back to Britain quickly under the European arrest warrant ... many of the Prime Minister's backbenchers want to scrap the European arrest warrant," Labour's Robert Flello said.

"Millions of British women would be hit by the proposal ... to opt out of the EU law on equal pay," Labour's Hugh Bayley noted.

"A statement on Europe designed to be populist runs the risk of polarising this house, undermining key UK relations with America, confusing and alienating our friends and partners in Europe," Scottish SDLP party MP Margaret Ritchie added.

With the atmosphere heating up ahead of Friday, divisions on the EU in Cameron's own Conservative Party and in his Liberal Democrat coalition are also coming to light.

A large chunk of Tory MPs called the Fresh Start group has published a manifesto - endorsed by British foreign minister William Hague - calling for UK opt-outs from EU employment law, social policies, criminal law and EU regional funding structures.

The group also wants a UK "emergency brake" - a unilateral opt-out mechanism on future EU decisions, such as on financial markets, deemed to cause "significant harm" to British interests.

But Cameron's Liberal party business minister, Vince Cable, plans to say in a speech on Thursday that a UK opt-out referendum "would add to the sense of un­resolved crisis and weaken Britain’s ability to deliver more reform inside the EU," the Financial Times reports.

Meanwhile, EU countries have followed a recent US statement urging Cameron not to go too far.

"You cannot kind of pick the raisins out of the [EU] bun," Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen told Reuters in Brussels on Wednesday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said in Berlin the same day: "We want an active and engaged Britain in the European Union." French EU affairs minister Bernard Cazeneuve said: "It is not in the interests of the single market to see the British leave. And the British know very well it is not in their interest to leave the single market."

With Cameron's Dutch venue apparently chosen due to The Netherlands' own reticence on EU integration and in an attempt to echo Margaret Thatcher's famous Bruges speech, The Hague also distanced itself from London on Wednesday.

"The Netherlands is not in favour of opt-outs - we have never been," Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans told Reuters.

The then Tory leader, Thatcher, said in Bruges, Belgium, in 1988: "We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level, with a European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels."

Opinion

On Cameron, Europe and other demons

The UK could play a leading role in the process of reforming and strengthening the EU, possibly THE leading role, writes Nikos Chrysoloras.

Agenda

EU's virtual summit with China This WEEK

This week, the European Union and China are holding their first joint summit since April 2019. It comes amid the pandemic, which first surfaced in China's Wuhan, protests in Hong Kong and a belligerent US president.

Coronavirus

EU leaders to reconvene in July on budget and recovery

Most EU leaders want an agreement before the summer break, but the Dutch PM, leading the 'Frugal Four', warned there might not even be a deal then. But the ECB's Christian Lagarde has warned of a "dramatic" economic fall.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Commission chief under fire for Croatia campaign video
  2. Parliament vaping booths 'too confidential' to discuss
  3. Belarus: Inside Lukashenko’s crackdown on independent voices
  4. The rationale behind US troop withdrawals from Germany
  5. Podcast: Nordic region speaks out on big global challenges
  6. Croatia re-elects PM amid corona downturn
  7. Budget talks shift gear This WEEK
  8. Cardinals speak out: EU needs corporate due diligence

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us