Back reform or we leave, EU leaders told

THE UK will vote to leave the European Union unless it backs David Cameron’s reform plans, the Foreign Secretary has said.

David Cameron
David Cameron

Philip Hammond has said EU leaders must agree to “a substantial package of reforms” as the Prime Minister embarks on his latest round of shuttle diplomacy in a bid to secure support.

Mr Cameron this week revealed the legislation which will see an EU membership referendum in 2017, with the PM seeking to put a renegotiated membership to voters.

Mr Cameron yesterday headed to Paris for discussions with President Francois Hollande, before travelling to Warsaw for talks with Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz and then Berlin to see Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose backing is crucial to success.

Arriving for a working lunch in The Hague, Mr Cameron said the UK and the Netherlands were “old friends and like-minded allies”.

He told his host: “I am looking forward to discussing many issues but obviously we will be talking about European reform and the need to focus on flexibility, the need to focus on growth and jobs, the need to make sure we complete the single market, the need to make sure that, as you have put it, ‘Europe where necessary but nation states where possible’.

“We have worked together on making sure that the European budget is under control, we have worked together on trade deals with other parts of the world, we have worked together on strong, pro-market, pro-enterprise agenda.

“So we will discuss all that and my plans for European reform.”

Mr Hammond said he remained confident that a deal was possible but he acknowledged that the Government faced some difficult negotiations with EU partners in the months ahead.

“We are at the very beginning of a process here. We have a very clear set of requirements,” he said.

“The Prime Minister is very clear in dealing with European counterparts that if we are not able to deliver on these big areas of concern that the British people have, we will not win the referendum when it comes.

“We expect our European Union partners to engage with us in delivering a package that will enable the British people to decide that Britain’s future is best delivered inside the European Union.

“We expect that some of our partners will adopt a hard line at the start of the negotiations - that’s how negotiation works - but we are very confident that, over the course of the summer and perhaps onwards through the winter, we will be able to negotiate a substantial package of reform which will address the concerns that the British people have.”

Mr Hammond confirmed that the Government believed the reforms it was seeking - particularly on curbing migrants’ access to benefits - would require changes to the EU treaties, potentially making it harder to get an agreement.

“The advice that we are getting is that we will need treaty change in order to underpin particularly the changes on migration and welfare benefits. That is the best legal advice that we are receiving,” he said.

Under the provisions of the EU Referendum Bill, being tabled in Parliament today, the referendum - which will determine whether the UK remains a member of the EU - has to be held before the end of 2017.

While Mr Hammond confirmed the Government had not ruled out the possibility that it could take place next year, he sought to play down the prospects of an early vote.

“I would urge people not to speculate on an early date. We are absolutely clear that we have to get this right. We are certainly not going to trade substantive reform just for getting it done quickly.”