David Cameron has outlined his ‘difficult, but not impossible to achieve’ goals for reforming the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU).
Mr Cameron’s speech comes after he told the CBI conference on Monday (9 November) that he had no “emotional attachment” which would stop him backing an exit for the UK if his EU renegotiation failed.
He described the forthcoming in/out referendum, promised before the end of 2017, as the biggest decision of “our lifetimes”, but was confident of getting the reforms he wanted, describing talks with EU partners “mission possible”.
In it, he said there are four objectives at the heart of the UK’s renegotiations, which were:
- Protection of the single market for Britain and other non-euro countries
- Boosting competitiveness by setting a target for the reduction of the “burden” of red tape
- Exempting Britain from “ever-closer union” and bolstering national parliaments
- Restricting EU migrants’ access to in-work benefits such as tax credits
Mr Cameron refuted claims made by former Tory chancellor Lord Lawson that the four goals were “disappointingly unambitious”, arguing that they reflected what the British people wanted and the measured would be “good for Britain and good for the European Union”.
“It is mission possible and it is going to take a lot of hard work to get there.
His toughest task will be persuading other EU leaders to accept restrictions on in-work benefits for new arrivals to the UK, which Mr Cameron described as vital to cut “very high” and “unsustainable” levels of immigration.
“I understand how difficult some of these welfare issues are for some member states, and I’m open to different ways of dealing with this issue.
“But we do need to secure arrangements that deliver on objectives set out in the Conservative manifesto to control migration from the European Union.
Mr Cameron claimed 40% of recent European Economic Area migrants received an average of around £6,000 a year of in-work benefits, and although he has stressed he wants the UK to remain in a reformed EU, he has not ruled out recommending leaving if he cannot secure the change he wants with the leaders of the other 27 EU countries.
In his speech today he also ruled out a a second referendum if Britain voted to leave.
“You the British people will decide. At that moment you will hold this country’s destiny in your hands. This is a huge decision for our country – perhaps the biggest we will make in our lifetimes. And it will be a final decision.
“When you look at the challenges facing European leaders today, the changes that Britain is seeking do not fall in the box marked ‘impossible’.
“They are eminently resolvable, with the requisite political will and political imagination.” – Prime Minister, David Cameron
The Vote Leave campaign described Mr Cameron’s negotiating demands as “trivial” and that the only way for the UK to regain control of its borders and democracy was by leaving the EU.
Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, said Mr Cameron’s position on the EU as “a lot of bluff and bluster” and more about “appeasing” some of his Eurosceptic backbenchers. Speaking to the BBC, he said that Labour’s position was that Britain should stay in the EU and “negotiate our reform agenda as members of the club”.
UKIP Leader Nigel Farage said it was clear Mr Cameron “is not aiming for any substantial renegotiation”, with “no promise to regain the supremacy of Parliament, nothing on ending the free movement of people and no attempt to reduce Britain’s massive contribution to the EU budget”.
However, director of Britain Stronger in Europe, Will Straw, supported the Prime Minister, saying: “Today the prime minister has set out a series of sensible and sound reforms to improve Britain’s relationship with Europe. It is now clear that Leave campaigners are losing the argument.”