Ian Birrell is a contributing editor of the Daily Mail and a former speechwriter to David Cameron. Follow him on Twitter here.
Here, he has annontated David Cameron's speech from this morning. Mr Cameron's original text is in italics. Ian's comments are in ConHome pink…
“This morning I want to talk about the future of Europe.
No, the last thing David
Cameron wants to do is talk about Europe. He never has done. Ever since he
became leader, he had said – rightly – that the Tory Party needed to stop
‘banging on about Europe’ since it makes voters think they are obsessed with
this solitary subject, rather than more fundamental issues such as jobs,
schools and hospitals.
But given the volume of
noise from the right, aided and abetted by the rise of UKIP, David Cameron had
no option but to try and lance the boil. Unfortunately, he allowed this speech
to be talked up for months, increasing the hype and making it difficult to meet
expectations, especially when it is addressed to so many different audiences in
Westminster, Britain, Europe and the rest of the world. Inside Downing Street,
many wanted it given before Christmas so it would have been forgotten over the
festive break. No such luck.
But first, let us
remember the past.
Seventy years ago, Europe
was being torn apart by its second catastrophic conflict in a generation. A war
which saw the streets of European cities strewn with rubble. The skies of
London lit by flames night after night. And millions dead across the world in
the battle for peace and liberty.
A slab of Churchillian rhetoric. Normally Mr Cameron avoids the
more flamboyant flourishes in his speech, preferring language that reflects his
character. But here he wants to underline the importance of this speech. After
all, this could be the moment he saves the Conservative Party from splitting
over an issue that has tormented it for two decades. Alternatively, it could come
to be seen as the second he fired the starting pistol on Britain’s withdrawal
As we remember their
sacrifice, so we should also remember how the shift in Europe from war to
sustained peace came about. It did not happen like a change in the weather. It
happened because of determined work over generations. A commitment to
friendship and a resolve never to revisit that dark past – a commitment
epitomised by the Elysee treaty signed 50 years ago this week.
After the Berlin Wall
came down I visited that city and I will never forget it.
The abandoned checkpoints. The sense of excitement about the
future. The knowledge that a great continent was coming together. Healing those
wounds of our history is the central story of the European Union.
This visit had huge
impact on the young Cameron. He has told friends it was his formative political
influence, sensing the excitement and sense of anticipation in eastern Europe
over the end of Communism.
What Churchill described
as the twin marauders of war and tyranny have been almost entirely banished
from our continent. Today, hundreds of millions dwell in freedom, from the
Baltic to the Adriatic, from the Western Approaches to the Aegean.
And while we must never
take this for granted, the first purpose of the European Union – to secure
peace – has been achieved and we should pay tribute to all those in the EU,
alongside Nato, who made that happen.
Hint, hint: the European Union has been a success, whatever some
But today the main,
overriding purpose of the European Union is different: not to win peace, but to
The challenges come not
from within this continent but outside it. From the surging economies in the
east and south. Of course a growing world economy benefits us all, but we
should be in no doubt that a new global race of nations is under way today.
A race for the wealth and
jobs of the future.
The map of global
influence is changing before our eyes.
This is Mr Cameron’s new mantra, first aired in his strong party
conference speech last year. The world is changing fast, and Britain needs to
be fit for the future. It provides the long-missing narrative for the
government, one all sections of the party can unite around. It is also right,
as I see travelling around the world, where you can feel the energy and sense
of optimism in places such as Asia and Africa. Unfortunately, it also places
our agonising over Europe in perspective.
And these changes are
already being felt by the entrepreneur in the Netherlands, the worker in
Germany, the family in Britain.
So I want to speak to you
today with urgency and frankness about the European Union and how it must
change – both to deliver prosperity and to retain the support of its peoples.
But first, I want to set
out the spirit in which I approach these issues.
I know that the United
Kingdom is sometimes seen as an argumentative and rather strong-minded member
of the family of European nations.
And it's true that our
geography has shaped our psychology.
We have the character of
an island nation: independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our
We can no more change
this British sensibility than we can drain the English Channel.
First nod to the Little Englanders. Was it also, as some
speculated, a deliberate echo of Margaret Thatcher’s famous Bruges speech in
which she warned of the dangers of a super state? Originally, there were even
discussions at Downing Street over making this much-postponed speech in Bruges.
Instead, it is finally made at a rather less resonant venue: Bloomberg’s London
And because of this
sensibility, we come to the European Union with a frame of mind that is more
practical than emotional.
For us, the European
Union is a means to an end – prosperity, stability, the anchor of freedom and
democracy both within Europe and beyond her shores – not an end in itself.
We insistently ask: how,
why, to what end?
But all this doesn't make
us somehow un-European.
The fact is that ours is
not just an island story – it is also a continental story.
For all our connections
to the rest of the world – of which we are rightly proud – we have always been
a European power, and we always will be.
From Caesar's legions to
the Napoleonic wars. From the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the industrial
revolution to the defeat of nazism. We have helped to write European history,
and Europe has helped write ours.
Over the years, Britain
has made her own, unique contribution to Europe. We have provided a haven to
those fleeing tyranny and persecution. And in Europe's darkest hour, we helped
keep the flame of liberty alight. Across the continent, in silent cemeteries,
lie the hundreds of thousands of British servicemen who gave their lives for
This was a speech to many different audiences, among them the
most fanatical of pro-Brussels zealots in Europe. So this was a shot across
their bows: don’t you dare say we are not good Europeans since we helped save
your continent from dictatorship.
In more recent decades,
we have played our part in tearing down the iron curtain and championing the
entry into the EU of those countries that lost so many years to Communism. And
contained in this history is the crucial point about Britain, our national
character, our attitude to Europe.
Britain is characterised
not just by its independence but, above all, by its openness.
We have always been a
country that reaches out. That turns its face to the world. That leads the
charge in the fight for global trade and against protectionism.
This is Britain today, as
it's always been: independent, yes – but open, too.
I never want us to pull
up the drawbridge and retreat from the world.
I am not a British
The hype and hoopla over this speech has helped define Mr
Cameron’s own approach to Europe. He is by nature a sceptic, the most sceptical
Prime Minister in recent history at the helm of a nation firmly hostile to the
idea of European unity. In recent weeks, however, he has made it clear he does
not favour withdrawal.
I don't just want a
better deal for Britain. I want a better deal for Europe too.
So 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
Some might then ask: why
raise fundamental questions about the future of Europe when Europe is already
in the midst of a deep crisis?
Why raise questions about
Britain's role when support in Britain is already so thin.
There are always voices
saying: "Don't ask the difficult questions."
But it's essential for
Europe – and for Britain – that we do because there are three major challenges
confronting us today.
First, the problems in
the eurozone are driving fundamental change in Europe.
Second, there is a crisis
of European competitiveness, as other nations across the world soar ahead.
Few can doubt this, except perhaps in Belgium and France.
Several European leaders, including Angela Merkel, have said this is the key
problem facing the EU. So here he is looking to build alliances for his reform
And third, there is a gap
between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years. And
which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is – yes
– felt particularly acutely in Britain.
Decisions in Brussels feel far removed from ordinary people in
Britain, while the EU appears a bloated, wasteful and often-incompetent
bureaucracy. Yet I was on a BBC debate with a columnist from Le Monde at the weekend who argued the
EU was more accountable than national political institutions. It demonstrated
to me the scale of challenge ahead.
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.
There, the PM says it again: he wants to stay in the EU…
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.
Let me start with the
nature of the challenges we face.
First, the eurozone.
The future shape of
Europe is being forged. There are some serious questions that will define the
future of the European Union – and the future of every country within it.
The union is changing to
help fix the currency – and that has profound implications for all of us,
whether we are in the single currency or not.
Britain is not in the
single currency, and we're not going to be.
Got that, everyone? We are not going to join the euro. Never…
But we all need the
eurozone to have the right governance and structures to secure a successful
currency for the long term.
And those of us outside
the eurozone also need certain safeguards to ensure, for example, that our access
to the single market is not in any way compromised.
This is an important point for mainland Europe. Many expect the
current eurozone crisis to lead to closer union for surviving members of the
euro. Mr Cameron has no problem with this, but is making it clear Britain does
not expect to be squeezed out of the single market and decision-making process
amid any closer political union.
And it's right we begin
to address these issues now.
Second, while there are
some countries within the EU which are doing pretty well. Taken as a whole,
Europe's share of world output is projected to fall by almost a third in the
next two decades. This is the competitiveness challenge – and much of our
weakness in meeting it is self-inflicted.
Complex rules restricting
our labour markets are not some naturally occurring phenomenon. Just as
excessive regulation is not some external plague that's been visited on our
These problems have been
around too long. And the progress in dealing with them, far too slow.
As Chancellor Merkel has
said, if Europe today accounts for just over 7% of the world's population,
produces around 25% of global GDP and has to finance 50% of global social
spending, then it's obvious that it will have to work very hard to maintain its
prosperity and way of life.
This is a powerful statistic, underlining the huge – and
unaffordable – cost of current welfare systems across Europe as our societies
Third, there is a growing
frustration that the EU is seen as something that is done to people rather than
acting on their behalf. And this is being intensified by the very solutions
required to resolve the economic problems.
People are increasingly
frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their
living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used
to bail out governments on the other side of the continent.
We are starting to see
this in the demonstrations on the streets of Athens, Madrid and Rome. We are
seeing it in the parliaments of Berlin, Helsinki and the Hague.
And yes, of course, we
are seeing this frustration with the EU very dramatically in Britain.
Stylistically, this speech is becoming a bit meandering. But
then, it was never designed to enter the annals of great speeches of our age.
It was designed to quell the Tory revolt over Europe and find something to
unite the divided party around while keeping UKIP’s angry brigade at bay
through to the next election. So it is quite smart to tie in traditional
British antipathy to Brussels with the burgeoning fury over enforced austerity
in southern Europe.
Europe's leaders have a
duty to hear these concerns. Indeed, we have a duty to act on them. And not
just to fix the problems in the eurozone.
For just as in any
emergency you should plan for the aftermath as well as dealing with the present
crisis, so too in the midst of the present challenges we should plan for the
future, and what the world will look like when the difficulties in the eurozone
have been overcome.
The biggest danger to the
European Union comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who
denounce new thinking as heresy. In its long history Europe has experience of
heretics who turned out to have a point.
Mr Cameron is often seen as a Macmillanite, a pragmatist who
seeks consensus and avoids confrontation. This is a mis-reading of a man who
likes to examine issues, then come to a conclusion and push it through – and
often ends up in anti-establishment positions.
And my point is this.
More of the same will not secure a long-term future for the eurozone. More of
the same will not see the European Union keeping pace with the new powerhouse
economies. More of the same will not bring the European Union any closer to its
citizens. More of the same will just produce more of the same: less
competitiveness, less growth, fewer jobs.
This is nice and cheeky, given this is the left’s argument
against the Coalition’s austerity measures. We need a Plan B in Brussels, but
not in Westminster…
And that will make our
countries weaker not stronger.
That is why we need
fundamental, far-reaching change.
So let me set out my
vision for a new European Union, fit for the 21st century.
It is built on five
competitiveness. At the core of the European Union must be, as it is now, the
single market. Britain is at the heart of that single market, and must remain
But when the single
market remains incomplete in services, energy and digital – the very sectors
that are the engines of a modern economy – it is only half the success it could
Interesting spin of the argument: when it comes to the common
market, we need more integration…
It is nonsense that
people shopping online in some parts of Europe are unable to access the best
deals because of where they live. I want completing the single market to be our
I want us to be at the
forefront of transformative trade deals with the US, Japan and India as part of
the drive towards global free trade. And I want us to be pushing to exempt
Europe's smallest entrepreneurial companies from more EU directives.
These should be the tasks
that get European officials up in the morning – and keep them working late into
the night. And so we urgently need to address the sclerotic, ineffective
decision-making that is holding us back.
That means creating a
leaner, less bureaucratic union, relentlessly focused on helping its member
countries to compete.
In a global race, can we
really justify the huge number of expensive peripheral European institutions?
True, of course. But then, as one political source said to me
this morning, which recent British Prime Minister has not argued for more
flexibility and less bureaucracy? Meanwhile, Brussels has grown bigger, more
bloated and less flexible…
Can we justify a
commission that gets ever larger?
Can we carry on with an
organisation that has a multibillion pound budget but not enough focus on
controlling spending and shutting down programmes that haven't worked?
And I would ask: when the
competitiveness of the single market is so important, why is there an
environment council, a transport council, an education council but not a single
The second principle
should be flexibility.
We need a structure that
can accommodate the diversity of its members – north, south, east, west, large,
small, old and new. Some of whom are contemplating much closer economic and
political integration. And many others, including Britain, who would never
embrace that goal.
I accept, of course, that
for the single market to function we need a common set of rules and a way of
enforcing them. But we also need to be able to respond quickly to the latest
developments and trends.
flexibility, choice and openness – or Europe will fetch up in a no-man's land
between the rising economies of Asia and market-driven North America.
Blimey, this speech is getting a bit blah. But then it could
have been reduced to a couple of lines on the referendum emailed out to
newsrooms; the rest is padding wrapped around a stick of political dynamite. So
the Prime Minister can be forgiven for banging on about Europe when he really
only wants to say one thing…
The EU must be able to
act with the speed and flexibility of a network, not the cumbersome rigidity of
We must not be weighed
down by an insistence on a one size fits all approach which implies that all
countries want the same level of integration. The fact is that they don't and
we shouldn't assert that they do.
Some will claim that this
offends a central tenet of the EU's founding philosophy. I say it merely
reflects the reality of the European Union today. 17 members are part of the
eurozone. 10 are not.
26 European countries are
members of Schengen – including four outside the European Union – Switzerland,
Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. Two EU countries – Britain and Ireland –
have retained their border controls.
A sharp reminder Britain has long supported EU enlargement. As
it gets bigger, of course, it becomes harder to justify the ponderous
decision-making and bureaucratic excesses. But this is a red rag to the bulls
of Brussels, since if Britain can pick and choose the rules to obey, so could
all others — and this undermines the basis of post-war Franco-German dreams of
political and economic unity.
Some members, like
Britain and France, are ready, willing and able to take action in Libya or
Mali. Others are uncomfortable with the use of military force.
Let's welcome that
diversity, instead of trying to snuff it out.
Let's stop all this talk
of two-speed Europe, of fast lanes and slow lanes, of countries missing trains
and buses, and consign the whole weary caravan of metaphors to a permanent
Instead, let's start from
this proposition: we are a family of democratic nations, all members of one
European Union, whose essential foundation is the single market rather than the
single currency. Those of us outside the euro recognise that those in it are
likely to need to make some big institutional changes.
By the same token, the
members of the eurozone should accept that we, and indeed all member states,
will have changes that we need to safeguard our interests and strengthen
democratic legitimacy. And we should be able to make these changes too.
Some say this will
unravel the principle of the EU – and that you can't pick and choose on the
basis of what your nation needs.
But far from unravelling
the EU, this will in fact bind its members more closely because such flexible,
willing co-operation is a much stronger glue than compulsion from the centre.
Let me make a further
The European treaty
commits the member states to "lay the foundations of an ever closer union
among the peoples of Europe".
This has been
consistently interpreted as applying not to the peoples but rather to the
states and institutions compounded by a European court of justice that has
consistently supported greater centralisation.
We understand and respect
the right of others to maintain their commitment to this goal. But for Britain
– and perhaps for others – it is not the objective.
And we would be much more
comfortable if the treaty specifically said so, freeing those who want to go
further, faster, to do so, without being held back by the others.
Mr Cameron dislikes Europe’s top court, with its binding
decisions on issues such as asylum seekers. In this, he is supported by
internal party polling showing the single factor most disliked about Europe is
its interference on human rights and legal freedoms. Helpfully, it is also a
toot on the dog whistle to the Tory right…
We believe in a flexible
union of free member states who share treaties and institutions and pursue
together the ideal of co-operation. To represent and promote the values of
European civilisation in the world. To advance our shared interests by using
our collective power to open markets. And to build a strong economic base
across the whole of Europe.
And we believe in our
nations working together to protect the security and diversity of our energy
supplies. To tackle climate change and global poverty. To work together against
terrorism and organised crime. And to continue to welcome new countries into
This vision of
flexibility and co-operation is not the same as those who want to build an ever
closer political union – but it is just as valid.
My third principle is
that power must be able to flow back to member states, not just away from them.
This was promised by European leaders at Laeken a decade ago.
It was put in the treaty.
But the promise has never really been fulfilled. We need to implement this
So let us use this
moment, as the Dutch prime minister has recently suggested, to examine
thoroughly what the EU as a whole should do and should stop doing.
Key message here: Britain is not alone in wanting to reform
Europe. Mr Cameron has long got on well with Holland’s political leaders – although
he is also friendly with Mrs Merkel. She was, incidentally, a big hit with his
young children during an early visit to Chequers.
In Britain we have
already launched our balance of competences review – to give us an informed and
objective analysis of where the EU helps and where it hampers.
Let us not be misled by
the fallacy that a deep and workable single market requires everything to be
harmonised, to hanker after some unattainable and infinitely level playing field.
Countries are different.
They make different choices. We cannot harmonise everything.
Message to our European partners: forget tax harmonisation… and,
most importantly, forget your perfidious plans to impose a ‘Tobin tax’ on
financial institutions unless you can get them agreed globally. Britain will
not back something designed to wreck the City of London.
For example, it is
neither right nor necessary to claim that the integrity of the single market,
or full membership of the European Union requires the working hours of British
hospital doctors to be set in Brussels irrespective of the views of British
parliamentarians and practitioners.
In the same way we need
to examine whether the balance is right in so many areas where the European
Union has legislated including on the environment, social affairs and crime.
Nothing should be off the
My fourth principle is
democratic accountability: we need to have a bigger and more significant role
for national parliaments.
There is not, in my view,
a single European demos.
Demos? Demos? Not really a word for such a key speech – but then
a little ancient Greek underlines European credentials, I guess…
It is national
parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic
legitimacy and accountability in the EU.
It is to the Bundestag
that Angela Merkel has to answer. It is through the Greek parliament that
Antonis Samaras has to pass his government's austerity measures.
It is to the British
parliament that I must account on the EU budget negotiations, or on the
safeguarding of our place in the single market.
Those are the parliaments
which instil proper respect – even fear – into national leaders.
We need to recognise that
in the way the EU does business.
My fifth principle is
fairness: whatever new arrangements are enacted for the eurozone, they must
work fairly for those inside it and out.
That will be of
particular importance to Britain. As I have said, we will not join the single
currency. But there is no overwhelming economic reason why the single currency
and the single market should share the same boundary, any more than the single
market and Schengen.
Our participation in the
single market, and our ability to help set its rules is the principal reason
for our membership of the EU.
So it is a vital interest
for us to protect the integrity and fairness of the single market for all its
And that is why Britain
has been so concerned to promote and defend the single market as the eurozone
crisis rewrites the rules on fiscal co-ordination and banking union.
These five principles
provide what, I believe, is the right approach for the European Union.
So now let me turn to
what this means for Britain.
Here we go. The warm-up is over and now we can get to what this
speech is really all about: the future of the Conservative Party.
disillusionment with the EU is at an all-time high. There are several reasons
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.
Put simply, many ask
"why can't we just have what we voted to join – a common market?"
Yes, Mr Cameron knows people are annoyed by Europe. In fact, as
the BBC points out, anti-European feeling was stronger in the early 1980s. The
difference was that withdrawal was Labour Party policy during its suicidal
stage – while now the divisions have erupted on the right. So UKIP is winning
support, although in reality it is just a protest party and Europe only the
fifth most-important issue for its fans, while it is the right of the Tory
Party that now displays lemming-like behaviour.
They are angered by some
legal judgements made in Europe that impact on life in Britain. Some of this
antipathy about Europe in general really relates of course to the European
court of human rights, rather than the EU. And Britain is leading European
efforts to address this.
Toot, toot on the dog whistle. The PM points out he hates the
ECHR as much as anyone – but also reminding people this is a separate issue to
the future of the EU. Many fail to appreciate this…
There is, indeed, much
more that needs to be done on this front. But people also feel that the EU is
now heading for a level of political integration that is far outside Britain's
They see treaty after
treaty changing the balance between member states and the EU. And note they
were never given a say.
They've had referendums
promised – but not delivered. They see what has happened to the euro. And they
note that many of our political and business leaders urged Britain to join at
After several months build up, and several minutes speaking, Mr
Cameron is getting to the point…
And they haven't noticed
many expressions of contrition.
And they look at the
steps the eurozone is taking and wonder what deeper integration for the
eurozone will mean for a country which is not going to join the euro.
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.
So after all his attempts to ignore the clamour on the right for
a referendum, Mr Cameron has to head off their demands…
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.
BOOM! There it is… he supports a referendum. Got that? But
what kind? Originally, many at Downing Street wanted a poll that did not
include a question on withdrawal.
I believe in confronting
this issue – shaping it, leading the debate. Not simply hoping a difficult
situation will go away.
Of course not…
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.
Not when there is an election to fight in a couple of years
A vote today between the
status quo and leaving would be an entirely false choice.
Now – while the EU is in
flux, and when we don't know what the future holds and what sort of EU will
emerge from this crisis – is not the right time to make such a momentous
decision about the future of our country.
Actually, true enough. It would be ridiculous to hold a
referendum now when the Euro-crisis remains unresolved.
It is wrong to ask people
whether to stay or go before we have had a chance to put the relationship
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
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
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.
A real choice between
leaving or being part of a new settlement in which Britain shapes and respects
the rules of the single market but is protected by fair safeguards, and free of
the spurious regulation which damages Europe's competitiveness.
A choice between leaving or being part of a new settlement in
which Britain is at the forefront of collective action on issues like foreign policy and trade and where we
leave the door firmly open to new members.
A new settlement subject
to the democratic legitimacy and accountability of national parliaments where
member states combine in flexible co-operation, respecting national differences
not always trying to eliminate them and in which we have proved that some
powers can in fact be returned to member states.
In other words, a
settlement which would be entirely in keeping with the mission for an updated
European Union I have described today. More flexible, more adaptable, more
…And, more to the point, buying lots of time to get through
the election, keep the hostile right at bay, keep UKIP down in the polls – and
all the while inserting imponderables into the process so there is
post-election wriggle room should the tactics succeed and Mr Cameron keep his
Fit for the challenges of
the modern age.
And to those who say a
new settlement can't be negotiated, I would say listen to the views of other
parties in other European countries arguing for powers to flow back to European
And look too at what we
have achieved already. Ending Britain's obligation to bail out eurozone
members. Keeping Britain out of the fiscal compact. Launching a process to
return some existing justice and home affairs powers. Securing protections on
banking union. And reforming fisheries policy.
So we are starting to
shape the reforms we need now. Some will not require treaty change.
But I agree too with what
President Barroso and others have said. At some stage in the next few years the
EU will need to agree on treaty change to make the changes needed for the
long-term future of the euro and to entrench the diverse, competitive,
democratically accountable Europe that we seek.
I believe the best way to
do this will be in a new treaty so I add my voice to those who are already
calling for this.
My strong preference is
to enact these changes for the entire EU, not just for Britain.
But if there is no
appetite for a new treaty for us all then of course Britain should be ready to
address the changes we need in a negotiation with our European partners.
Drum roll. Here it comes…
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.
BOOM! Ok, so he does not promise binding legislation but this
appears unequivocal: a referendum on Britain’s future in Europe will be on the
table at the next election. This is the lynchpin of Mr Cameron’s attempt to
stop the right splintering and retain office after the election. Mind you, it
makes it harder to envisage another coalition with the Liberal Democrats if no
party wins a majority in 2015.
It will be a relationship
with the single market at its heart.
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.
BOOM! Mr Cameron has been forced to concede possibly the biggest
gamble of his Prime Ministerial career. This is not throwing a slab of red meat
to the right – it is giving them the keys to the abattoir. These are seven
words to make hardline Eurosceptics drool with delight and smarter Labour
figures rue their missed opportunity.
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.
I understand the appeal
of going it alone, of charting our own course.
Mr Cameron is building bridges here, telling the anti-European
mob they are not ‘nutters’
But it will be a decision
we will have to take with cool heads. Proponents of both sides of the argument
will need to avoid exaggerating their claims.
But now for some realism…
Of course Britain could make
her own way in the world, outside the EU, if we chose to do so. So could any
other member state.
But the question we will
have to ask ourselves is this: is that the very best future for our country?
We will have to weigh
carefully where our true national interest lies.
Alone, we would be free
to take our own decisions, just as we would be freed of our solemn obligation
to defend our allies if we left Nato. But we don't leave Nato because it is in
our national interest to stay and benefit from its collective defence
We have more power and
influence – whether implementing sanctions against Iran or Syria, or promoting
democracy in Burma – if we can act together.
If we leave the EU, we
cannot of course leave Europe. It will remain for many years our biggest
market, and forever our geographical neighbourhood. We are tied by a complex
web of legal commitments.
Hundreds of thousands of
British people now take for granted their right to work, live or retire in any
other EU country.
Even if we pulled out
completely, decisions made in the EU would continue to have a profound effect
on our country. But we would have lost all our remaining vetoes and our voice
in those decisions.
We would need to weigh up
very carefully the consequences of no longer being inside the EU and its single
market, as a full member.
Continued access to the
single market is vital for British businesses and British jobs.
Since 2004, Britain has
been the destination for one in five of all inward investments into Europe.
And being part of the
single market has been key to that success.
There will be plenty of
time to test all the arguments thoroughly, in favour and against the
arrangement we negotiate. But let me just deal with one point we hear a lot
There are some who
suggest we could turn ourselves into Norway or Switzerland – with access to the
single market but outside the EU. But would that really be in our best
Mr Cameron is starting to make his arguments in favour of
staying in. You will hear a lot more of this over the next few weeks, months
I admire those countries
and they are friends of ours – but they are very different from us. Norway sits
on the biggest energy reserves in Europe, and has a sovereign wealth fund of
over €500bn. And while Norway is part of the single market – and pays for the
principle – it has no say at all in setting its rules. It just has to implement
The Swiss have to
negotiate access to the single market sector by sector, accepting EU rules –
over which they have no say – or else not getting full access to the single
market, including in key sectors like financial services.
The fact is that if you
join an organisation like the European Union, there are rules.
One interesting legacy of the way this build-up to this speech
was allowed to get out of control has been the way it forced the PM to define
his own position on Europe. He has always been instinctively Euro-sceptic, and
like many at Downing Street his frustrations with Brussels have grown in office
as he saw how much it restricts his authority. But he has made it very clear
now that, for all its faults, he does not believe Britain should leave the EU.
He is right, of course, but once the excitement dies down over the referendum,
this will mean he remains a figure of suspicion for many in his party.
You will not always get
what you want.
Mr Cameron knows that far from putting out the fire, such is the
frenzy over Europe it is possible this speech only inflames the right.
But that does not mean we
should leave – not if the benefits of staying and working together are greater.
We would have to think
carefully too about the impact on our influence at the top table of
There is no doubt that we
are more powerful in Washington, in Beijing, in Delhi because we are a powerful
player in the European Union.
Just listen to President Obama…
That matters for British
jobs and British security.
…and all those businesses arguing against pulling out.
It matters to our ability
to get things done in the world. It matters to the United States and other
friends around the world, which is why many tell us very clearly that they want
Britain to remain in the EU.
We should think very
carefully before giving that position up.
If we left the European
Union, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return.
Not necessarily true, but this might increase voters’ worries
So we will have time for
a proper, reasoned debate.
Not now, though. Mr Cameron, however, will hope that once the
hysteria dies down he can park Europe as an issue and concentrate on issues of
more immediate concern to the electorate. This is unlikely, however, in the
wake of a speech that could turn out to be the most historic he ever makes. Or
could look entirely meaningless in a few months’ time as the in-fighting flares
up rather than dies down.