Tuesday

18th Feb 2020

British PM outlines minimalist EU membership

  • Cliffs of Dover: Cameron praised the UK's 'natural advantages' on border control (Photo: Ismael Celis)

David Cameron has said British people can feel confident to vote on the EU before treaty change, while outlining a minimalist future for UK membership.

He told press after an EU summit in Brussels on Friday (26 June) there won’t be time for 28 governments to ratify a new treaty before the in/out referendum deadline of end-2017.

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  • 'That’s what fires me up ... the national interest' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

But he said it’s normal to make big decisions on the basis of partly-ratified texts, citing the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as an example.

“This is the usual way to proceed. What matters is the substance. What matters is the deal. What matters is what we get”, he said.

He noted that he wants four EU changes before British people vote whether to stay in.

The list includes: cutting the phrase “ever-closer Union” from the treaty; making the single market more competitive; protecting the UK, which isn’t part of the eurozone, from decisions by the euro club; and curbing welfare for EU nationals who move to Britain.

“Our membership of the Union will, once again, have the common market at its heart. We’ll have gotten off the treadmill of ever-closer Union … it will be a new and different membership”, Cameron said.

Referring to Greece, he said “the euro is driving the process of change in Europe” because it requires “deeper integration” to prevent future crises.

“Certainly, Britain isn’t going to go anywhere near the euro. Not as long as I’m prime minister. So you’ve got to make sure this organisation [the EU] works for both sorts of countries”.

The British PM spoke after briefing EU leaders, for the first time in a plenary format, on his demands on Thursday evening.

He has also spoken to each of them individually during a tour of EU capitals in recent weeks.

“I felt that what I said [on Thursday] had a good and fair reception”, he noted.

Referring to his tour, he added: “I’m not saying everyone has put up their hands and said: ‘Yes, David. That’s marvellous. We can nod that through’. These are going to be tough changes to negotiate”.

He told press the UK contributes a lot to the EU, in budget contributions and by lending its diplomatic and defence capabilities.

But he made clear he wants to keep the continent at arm’s length.

He said the UK was right not to join the passport-free Schengen zone because it lets Britain “make the most of the natural advantages [the North Sea] that we have in terms of being able to have strong border control”.

He listed as his finest EU moments his support for UK opt-outs, cutting the EU budget, and vetoing select EU laws.

“That’s what fires me up. That’s why I’m doing this [the in/out vote] - it’s the national interest”, he said.

His strident words were undercut by a leak to The Guardian the previous day, however.

The British daily published excerpts from a diplomatic note summarising one of his bilateral EU meetings.

The note says Cameron told his interlocutor his “firm aim was to keep the UK in the EU” and that “people will ultimately vote for the status quo if the alternatives can be made to appear risky”.

It adds that, short of treaty change, he’d settle for a protocol “to change the treaties in due course”.

It also says German and Italian leaders - “Angela and Matteo” - reacted well to his wishlist. But France is “warier”, especially on EU migrant welfare.

Nigel Farage, an MEP and a leading British eurosceptic, told press the leak proves the in/out vote will be a “con”.

But Cameron made fun of his adversary.

“As for Nigel Farage, I don’t remember him being in any of those meetings. But as this is a man who can miraculoulsy resign and unresign, maybe he was there in incorporeal form”, he said, referring to Farage’s recent U-turn on the leadership of Ukip, his political party.

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