Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

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 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'
  2. UK secrecy on Brexit holds back wider EU talks
  3. Feminist mass protest in Spain after 19 murders this summer
  4. Global climate strike starts ahead of UN summit
  5. UK Brexit minister to meet Barnier on Friday
  6. Russia-Ukraine gas deal talks show 'progress'
  7. Nobel economist: Ireland 'not good EU citizen' on taxes
  8. Germany takes carbon border tax on board

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Europe goes to New York This WEEK
  2. Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations
  3. Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril
  4. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  5. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  6. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  7. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  8. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us