David Cameron endorsed Sir John Major’s warning that there is 50- 50 chance the UK would leave the European Union, saying the former prime minister had been right to say the country needed concessions on immigration.
Speaking at a press conference in Canberra after addressing the Australian Parliament, Cameron said “it was very powerful that a former prime minister – a very powerful respected politician with a strong track record of negotiating with Europe – felt it necessary to make that speech in those terms so clearly”.
The prime minister added: “When countries in Europe that have difficulties that need to be addressed, Europe needs to have the flexibilities to address them. When there are problems such as the French have over budget or there are disputes what power sources they should use, we need a network that is flexible enough to cope and manage these things.”
Cameron argued Britain needed to win concessions on immigration within the EU.
On Thursday, Major gave a speech in Germany in which he warned the UK was in danger of stumbling out of the EU in a divorce that would be “final”. The man who was prime minister between 1990 and 1997 said Britain was heading towards a breach unless concerns about immigration were addressed.
However, Germany has already said it will not allow the free movement of people to be curtailed within the EU, saying it was one of the founding principles of the EU. Germany has instead said it was willing to review the rights of migrants to claim benefits.
The Australian prime minister,Tony Abbott, aware he was treading into a diplomatic minefield, said at the same event that Britain “can be a strong voice and an effective member of Europe”.
Abbott said: “It’s in all our interests that Britain remains strong and effective. Britain has very much kept its individual character, kept its freedom whilst at the same time being an effective member of Europe.
“I just do not see it as an either/or business. I really don’t and one of the tendencies of our English-speaking media is to constantly see opposites when we should be looking for complementarities.”
This article was written by Patrick Wintour in Canberra, for theguardian.com on Friday 14th November 2014 04.24 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010