- Foreign Secretary says the Prime Minister will get major reforms agreed
- But admits plan to ban benefits for migrants for four years could be illegal
- Cameron to set out his list of demands in letter to Brussels on Tuesday
The British people will not be ‘fobbed off’ with minor changes to the European Union, Philip Hammond warned today.
The Foreign Secretary insisted that David Cameron must get more than ‘cosmetic alterations’ to the UK’s relationship with Brussels.
But he raised doubts about the chances of securing a four-year ban on migrants claiming benefits, which he admitted would be illegal under current EU law.
Mr Cameron will this week try to head off a Tory civil war over Europe by demanding radical reforms from Brussels – and pledging to leave the EU if he does not get them.
As he fires the starting gun on crucial EU negotiations, the Prime Minister will try to perform a delicate tightrope act by laying down challenges to both the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ campaigns.
Mr Cameron will use a speech on Tuesday to ask those campaigning to remain in the EU to justify how they can defend the status quo – but will also ask their opponents if they understand the potentially damaging effects of leaving.
Mr Hammond said the letter to Mr Tusk would set out Britain’s argument for reform but would not include ‘detailed specific legislative changes’.
‘We don’t want to be excessively prescriptive at the beginning of the discussion. This letter is not the end of the process, it is the beginning of the process,’ he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
He warned however that there would have to be ‘substantive legally-binding change’ if the British public were to vote for it in the referendum.
‘The British people will not be fobbed off with a set of cosmetic alterations to the way the EU works. This is about fundamental change in the direction of travel of the European Union,’ he said.
He acknowledged that there would be ‘big challenges’ for the UK if it did vote to leave.
‘If we were not in the EU we would have to find a different way of promoting our economy. It is not impossible but it would be challenging,’ he said.
Mr Cameron has promised to end the concept of ‘ever closer union’, secure protection for non-euro countries from bailing out the single currency and giving national governments the right to veto Brussels diktats.
In a speech last year, the Prime Minister said he wanted to ban migrants from claiming in-work benefits until they have been in Britain for four years and block access to social housing.
But the plan faces being thrown out by other EU leaders who say it will unfairly penalise their citiziens wanting to move to the UK.
Mr Hammond agreed that it could fall foul of EU law. ‘Under current EU law, it may not comply,’ he said.
‘We’re looking for changes, and some of the changes we’re looking for will require changes to the body of law – the treaties and the EU secondary legislation – that are currently in place. We wouldn’t be having to have a complex renegotiation if we didn’t require substantial changes in the law that governs the EU.’
|WHAT ARE CAMERON’S KEY DEMANDS FOR EU REFORM?|
FOR WORKERS FROM THE EU:
No in-work benefits until they have been in Britain for four years
No social housing for four years
No child benefit or tax credits paid for children living outside the UK
FOR UNEMPLOYED EU MIGRANTS:
No support from the UK taxpayer
Deportation if they do not get a job for six months
OTHER IMMIGRATION MEASURES:
Restrictions on EU migrants bringing in family members from outside the EU
Longer bans on rough sleepers, beggars and fraudsters returning to the UK
Tougher rules on deporting foreign criminals
Refusing to allow other countries to join the EU without imposing controls on the movement of their workers until their economies have reached UK levels
PROTECTIONS FROM EU INTERFERENCE:
A special ‘opt-out’ from the principle of ‘ever closer union’ between EU states
Measures to strengthen national parliaments to club together to block Brussels diktats
Rules to protect the influence of countries outside the Eurozone
The publication of Mr Cameron’s letter on Tuesday will mark the start of the detailed renegotiations of Britain’s membership – the result of which will be put to the country in an in/out referendum to be held before the end of 2017.
Mr Cameron will say he is ready to campaign to stay in the EU ‘with all my heart and all my soul’ – but only if the terms are right.
In his speech, to accompany the release of the letter, Mr Cameron will seek to turn up the pressure on EU leaders while demonstrating to sceptical Tory MPs he is prepared to walk away if he is not able to get the changes he wants.
‘If we can’t reach such an agreement, and if Britain’s concerns were to be met with a deaf ear, which I do not believe will happen, then we will have to think again about whether this European Union is right for us. As I have said before – I rule nothing out,’ he will say.
The Prime Minister will insist he has ‘every confidence’ that it is possible for the negotiations to deliver an agreement which works both for Britain and its EU partners.
‘If and when we do so, as I said three years ago, I will campaign to keep Britain inside a reformed European Union – campaign for it with all my heart and all my soul, because that will be unambiguously in our national interest,’ he will say.
Mr Cameron will struggle to convince hard line Eurosceptics among his own MPs – some of whom are expected to campaign for Britain to leave when the referendum finally comes.
Mr Cameron will use his speech to challenge both those who are determined to stay and those who are set on leaving in the run up to the campaign.
‘Those who believe we should stay in the EU at all costs need to explain why Britain should accept the status quo. I am clear that there are real problems with this,’ he will say.
‘There are some economic risks if we allow a situation where eurozone countries could potentially spend our money, or where European regulations hold back our ability to trade and create jobs. And there are also significant risks if we allow our sovereignty to be eroded by ever closer union, or sit by and do nothing about the unsustainable rate of migration into our country.
‘But just as those who are advocating staying in the EU at all costs have to answer serious questions, so those who think Britain should just leave now also need to think hard about the implications of their arguments.
‘What would being outside the European Union mean for our economic security? And what does it mean for our national security?’