David Cameron is intensifying his lobbying of EU leaders over his plans to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership by embarking on a two-day tour of four European capitals.
As the government publishes the legislation that will allow for an in/out EU referendum by the end of 2017, the prime minister will visit The Hague, Paris, Warsaw and Berlin before an EU summit next month.
The prime minister meets his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte over lunch in The Hague on Thursday, followed by talks at the Elysée Palace in Paris with the French president, François Hollande. On Friday, he visits the Polish prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, in Warsaw before flying to Berlin for talks with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.
The tour comes after the government unveiled its principle measure in the Queen’s speech – a bill to permit the first referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU since 1975.
The bill will confirm that the government has accepted the advice of the Electoral Commission on the referendum question. Voters will be asked: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” This contrasts with the question in the Tory private members’ bill in the last parliament which asked: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?” The commission suggested that this question risked confusing some voters who might not have realised that the UK is already a member of the EU.
The question means that the campaign to stay in the EU will be the yes side while the anti-EU campaign will be the no side, the reverse of the Scottish referendum in which the status quo – to remain in the UK – was the no side.
The prime minister made clear that all members of his government would be bound by his negotiations as he hinted that ministers may also be expected to campaign on the same side in the referendum campaign. He told MPs: “The government have a very clear view, which is that we believe that the right answer is reform, renegotiation and referendum. We go into that believing that Britain will be successful. That is the view of all the government and every government minister.”
As he prepared for his tour of EU capitals, Cameron was warned of the challenges ahead when French newspaper Le Monde reported over the weekend that Hollande and Merkel have agreed that reforms to the eurozone should be delivered under the EU’s current treaties. The decision means that Cameron is unlikely to secure the “full-on” treaty change he demanded in January. British sources have suggested recently that he might press for a legally binding protocol. This could be attached to a future revision of the Lisbon treaty or to the next accession treaty for a new EU member state.
The prime minister is planning to demand change in four broad areas. He wants to:
- Bar unemployed EU migrants from claiming benefits and force EU migrants in employment to wait four years before claiming in-work benefits. This will be resisted in Warsaw.
- Hand the UK an opt-out from the “ever closer union” declaration.
- Ensure that EU member states outside the eurozone, such as the UK, could not have changes to the rules of the single market imposed on them by eurozone countries.
- Give national parliaments the right to club together to block new legislative proposals.
A Downing Street source said: “The introduction of the EU referendum bill is a concrete step towards settling the debate about the UK’s membership of the EU. It will pave the way for the British people to have their say for the first time in 40 years on our place in the EU. And as the prime minister has said before, it will be an important choice about our country’s destiny.
“Over two years ago, the prime minister made a commitment to give the British people a very simple choice in an EU referendum. He made clear then that this should not be on the basis of the status quo but on a reformed relationship with the EU that the PM is determined to deliver. With today’s bill, the PM has been true to his word. The question is clear. It will be for voters to decide whether to stay or leave.”
This article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 28th May 2015 06.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010