The Prime Minister made a statement, yesterday, at the House of Commons, on the most recent European Council. Bill Cash made the following intervention:
The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the European Council meeting that took place before Christmas. The Council focused on three issues: migration, terrorism and the UK’s renegotiation. I will take each in turn. (…)
Turning to the UK renegotiation. I have set out the four areas where Britain is seeking significant and far-reaching reforms: on sovereignty and subsidiarity, where Britain must not be part of an “ever-closer union” and where we want a greater role for national Parliaments; on competitiveness, where the EU must add to our competitiveness, rather than detract from it, by signing new trade deals, cutting regulation and completing the single market; on fairness for countries inside and outside the eurozone, where the EU must protect the integrity of the single market and ensure there is no disadvantage, discrimination or additional costs for a country like Britain, which is not in the euro and which in my view is never going to join the euro; and on migration, where we need to tackle abuses of the right to free movement, and deliver changes that ensure that our welfare system is not an artificial draw for people to come to Britain.
This is the first time a country has tried to renegotiate its membership of the EU from a standing start. Many doubted it was even possible, but at this Council we had an entire session focused on this issue, lasting several hours, and with almost every European leader contributing. I am happy to go into detail on what was an extensive discussion, but the key points were these. There was strong support for Britain to stay in the EU. European leaders began their remarks by saying not that Britain is better off in Europe, but that Europe would be better off with Britain staying in it. All wanted to reach an agreement that would address the concerns we have raised. There was extensive discussion of all four areas, and difficulties were raised with all four of them. The most difficult issues were around free movement and welfare.
There was, however, a great deal of good will. At the end of the discussion, the Council agreed—and I quote directly from the conclusions—that we would
“work closely together to find mutually satisfactory solutions in all the four areas”.
I think it significant that the conclusions talk about solutions, not compromises, and I made it clear that these solutions would require changes that were legally binding and irreversible. So while each of these areas will require hard work, I believe that there is now a pathway to an agreement.
Later this week, I am continuing my efforts to secure that agreement with further discussions in Germany and Hungary, and I hope we can reach a full agreement when the Council meets again next month. What matters is getting the substance right, not the speed of the deal. If we can see this through and secure these changes, we will succeed in fundamentally changing the UK’s relationship with the EU, finally addressing the concerns that the British people have over our membership. If we cannot do that, as I have said before, I rule nothing out.
My intention is that, at the conclusion of the renegotiation, the Government should reach a clear recommendation, and then the referendum will be held. It is the nature of a referendum that it is the people, not the politicians, who decide, and as I indicated before Christmas, there will be a clear Government position, but it will be open to individual Ministers to take a different personal position while remaining part of the Government. Ultimately, it will be for the British people to decide this country’s future by voting in or out of a reformed European Union in the referendum that only we promised and that only a Conservative majority Government were able to deliver. I commend this statement to the House.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): My right hon. Friend has just stated that his package would “require changes” that are “legally binding and irreversible”. As there is no treaty change on offer, on what grounds can he legitimately and honestly contend that an international agreement registered at the UN would be legally binding and irreversible, and that voters—this is what matters—could absolutely rely on it when they cast their votes? Will this be a cast-iron guarantee?
The Prime Minister: There have been occasions when countries have voted in referendums, or indeed when we have voted in this House on treaty proposals, before they are adopted and implemented by every other country. What I have said is that we need changes that are legally binding and irreversible, and those are the changes I seek.