A few minutes ago, British Prime Minister David Cameron sets out EU reform goals on speech in Chartam House. He said Britain faced a “huge decision” in the in/out referendum promised before the end of 2017.
But he said he was confident of getting what he wanted from reform talks.
Cameron sends a letter to the Head of European Council Donald Tusk saying four objectives lie at the heart of the UK’s renegotiations:
- 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
Cameron hit back at claims by former Tory chancellor Lord Lawson that the four goals were “disappointingly unambitious”, saying they reflected what the British people wanted and 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,” said the prime minister.
David Cameron said benefit restrictions were needed to cut “very high” and “unsustainable” levels of immigration but added: “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.”
He claimed 40% of recent European Economic Area migrants received an average of around £6,000 a year of in-work benefits – although others have questioned those figures.
The prime minister said he wants the UK to stay in a reformed EU, but he has not ruled out recommending leaving if he cannot secure the change he wants with the leaders of the other 27 EU countries.
He did rule out a second referendum if Britain voted to leave, saying: “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.”
And he said the changes Britain wanted “do not fall in the box marked ‘impossible’.
“They are eminently resolvable, with the requisite political will and political imagination.”
European leader has reacted with further promises to UK.
A spokesman for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Mr Cameron’s benefit restriction proposals were “highly problematic” as they affected the “fundamental freedoms of our internal market” and amounted to “direct discrimination between EU citizens”.
But he said the Commission viewed the letter as the starting point of negotiations and it would work with the PM for a “fair deal for Britain which is also fair for all the other member states”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “we want to work through these proposals with the aim of working towards a solution”.
“Some points are more difficult than others, but given that we are working in the spirit of wanting to reach a solution, I am reasonably confident that we can succeed. Germany will certainly do its bit to help as far as European rules permit,” she added.
Labour Party has criticised it. Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Mr Cameron’s position on the EU was “a lot of bluff and bluster” and more about “appeasing” some of his Eurosceptic backbenchers.
Labour’s position was that Britain should stay in the EU and “negotiate our reform agenda as members of the club”, he added.
The SNP said Mr Cameron had broken his promise to properly consult the Scottish government on the issue.
The party’s European Affairs spokesman Stephen Gethins said: “During the Independence Referendum the prime minister claimed a Yes vote could mean Scots being thrown out of the EU – the reality is that it is his own policies that are taking us closer to the exit door than ever before.”
Conclusion: Anyone want to save Europe from Brexit?