Downing Street has tonight released the following extracts from David Cameron’s speech on the European Union, which he will deliver tomorrow at 8am. Here’s your guide to what we know so far:
1. An unwilling EU could sleepwalk Britain out of the union
‘I speak as British Prime Minister with a positive vision for the future of the European Union. A future in which Britain wants, and should want, to play a committed and active part.
‘If we don’t address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit.
‘I do not want that to happen. I want the European Union to be a success. And I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it.
‘That is why I am here today. To acknowledge the nature of the challenges we face. To set out how I believe the European Union should respond to them. And to explain what I want to achieve for Britain and its place within the European Union.’
The Prime Minister is turning around the criticism that is so often levelled at him that Britain could be sleepwalking out of the European Union. By saying that there is a danger that Europe will fail ‘if we don’t address these challenges, he is turning the focus on EU leaders to come up with the goods in a renegotiation.
2. A referendum is right: but not right now
‘Today, public disillusionment with the EU is at an all time high.
‘There are several reasons for this. People feel that the EU is heading in a direction that they never signed up to. They resent the interference in our national life by what they see as unnecessary rules and regulation. And they wonder what the point of it all is.
‘The result is that democratic consent for the EU in Britain is now wafer thin.
‘Some people say that to point this out is irresponsible, creates uncertainty for business and puts a question mark over Britain’s place in the European Union.
‘But the question mark is already there and ignoring it won’t make it go away.
‘In fact, quite the reverse. Those who refuse to contemplate consulting the British people, would in my view make more likely our eventual exit.
‘Simply asking the British people to carry on accepting a European settlement over which they have had little choice is a path to ensuring that when the question is finally put – and at some stage it will have to be – it is much more likely that the British people will reject the EU.
‘That is why I am in favour of a referendum. I believe in confronting this issue – shaping it, leading the debate not simply hoping a difficult situation will go away.
‘Some argue that the solution is therefore to hold a straight in-out referendum now. I understand the impatience of wanting to make that choice immediately.
‘But I don’t believe that to make a decision at this moment is the right way forward, either for Britain or for Europe as a whole. A vote today between the status quo and leaving would be an entirely false choice.
‘It is wrong to ask people whether to stay or go before we have had a chance to put the relationship right. How can we sensibly answer the question ‘in or out’, without being able to answer the most basic question: ‘what is it exactly that we are choosing to be in or out of?’
‘The European Union that emerges from the Eurozone crisis is going to be a very different body. It will be transformed perhaps beyond recognition by the measures needed to save the Eurozone. We need to allow some time for that to happen – and help to shape the future of the European Union, so that when the choice comes it will be a real one.’
It is clear that the Prime Minister has given up on pleasing the Better Off Out Tories, and is instead focusing on those who, like Andrea Leadsom and her Fresh Start colleagues, and like many of those who signed the Baron letter, want a renegotiated relationship and/or believe a referendum is essential for restoring trust in politicians and Europe. Cameron has got quite a task here: he has to win back lost trust over the ‘cast-iron guarantee’ on a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty that turned out to be made of something considerably weaker.
But this speech is driven as much Tory party’s fear of UKIP as it is by the Tory party itself. It is impressive that a party without a single MP has brought matters to such a head.
3. There will be an In/Out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU by 2017
‘The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament. And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether. It will be an in-out referendum.
‘Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative Government is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately and pass it by the end of that year. And we will complete this negotiation and hold this referendum within the first half of the next parliament.
‘It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics.
‘I say to the British people: this will be your decision. And when that choice comes, you will have an important choice to make about our country’s destiny.’
Cameron has promised to fight the 2015 election with a manifesto pledge for a referendum. He will disappoint the 100 signatories of the Baron letter by failing to pledge legislation in this parliament, but in a sop to that group of backbenchers, he is promising to ‘draft legislation’ for the referendum which a post-2015 Conservative government could enact.
One question is whether Cameron would consider this a ‘red line’ in a post-2015 coalition, though. He speaks about what a Conservative government would do, but would it be a condition of a Conservative-led government?
His line ‘it is time for the British people to have their say’ is also an attack line he can use (possibly as early as tomorrow’s PMQs) on Labour: will the Opposition also let the British people have their say?
4. Britain is Better Off In
‘With courage and conviction I believe we can deliver a more flexible, adaptable and open European Union in which the interests and ambitions of all its members can be met. With courage and conviction I believe we can achieve a new settlement in which Britain can be comfortable and all our countries can thrive.
‘I believe something very deeply. That Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union. And that such a European Union is best with Britain in it.
‘Over the coming weeks, months and years, I will not rest until this debate is won. For the future of my country. For the success of the European Union. And for the prosperity of our peoples for generations to come.’
In these quotes Cameron is also confirming that he will be campaigning for Britain to stay in the European Union. He is not going to act as the bad cop in the negotiations: instead, the verdict of the British people will be the threat he uses if European leaders seem reluctant.
As for UKIP, the party will clearly go in all guns blazing on Cameron’s campaigning stance. As Nigel Farage argued this weekend, they can now claim to be the only party pushing for ‘Out’. But what will be interesting is whether this leads more Tory voters to defect, given the EU is not as big a driver of votes as immigration.
What’s missing? Spectator readers won’t have been surprised by the omission of a shopping list of powers to repatriate: James revealed in his column two weeks ago that the Prime Minister wasn’t planning to include a list. The danger of announcing a list of powers which his critics could then hold him to was too great: far better for the Prime Minister to emerge from the talks brandishing a piece of paper which he can claim is a victory rather than only six out of 20 demands.
But he is still taking a risk with his leadership of the Conservative party: he is expecting his ministers and hopes that the majority of his backbenchers will campaign for an ‘In’ vote. That means he’s got to give them a meaty new settlement: coming back with reforms to garlic tax isn’t going to wash it. He needs to bring back far more than the last British Prime Minister did from a renegotiation. If he doesn’t there is a risk that the Tory party could split between In and Out campaigners. There will always be a contingent of Conservative MPs who will campaign for ‘Out’, but Number 10 will hope that this will stay below 20 per cent. Any higher and Cameron would be in serious danger. There’s also a risk that the Prime Minister who believes Britain is Better Off In comes back with a settlement so paltry that British voters believe they are Better Off Out.
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