UK will vote to leave EU if reform is ‘cosmetic’, says Philip Hammond

Britain will vote to leave the European Union if EU leaders only accept “cosmetic” changes to the way it works, the foreign secretary has said.

Speaking on Sunday, two days before the UK government sets out a comprehensive list of what it wants to achieve through its renegotiation, Philip Hammond said there would have to be “substantive” changes in various areas if the government was going to persuade Britons to vote to remain in the EU in the referendum planned before the end of 2017.

The publication on Tuesday of the government’s list of demands, in the form of a letter from David Cameron to Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, will mark an intensification of the renegotiation process that formally started in the summer. It has coincided with the government escalating its rhetoric about the possibility of Britain leaving in the event of the renegotiation going badly.

Hammond told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 that there were several areas where Britain needed “substantive, irreversible, legally binding change in order to satisfy the British people”.

He said: “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 to make sure that it works for Britain and that it is an effective organisation for all the citizens of Europe.”

Hammond said the government had already set out, in speeches and articles, what its demands were but that the Tusk letter, or the document accompanying it, would pull them together in one place for the first time.

The document would specify “what it is Britain is seeking to change, why we are seeking that change, and ... some parameters for that change”, Hammond said.

But it would not propose “detailed specific legislative changes”, he said. That was because there were different ways of achieving Britain’s aims, including in some cases domestic legislation as well as European legislation, and how Britain achieved what it wanted would be a matter for negotiation, Hammond said.

The British demands include: getting out of the commitment to an “ever closer union” in the EU treaties; greater protection for non-eurozone countries like Britain, to ensure other member states don’t gang up against them; allowing Britain to cut welfare payments to EU migrants; and giving national parliaments the power to block EU laws using a “red card” system.

In a speech on Tuesday, to coincide with the publication of the Tusk letter, Cameron is expected to suggest that the government could recommend a vote to leave the EU in the referendum if it does not get what it 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,” Cameron will say, according to extracts released in advance.

However, many of Cameron’s EU counterparts will see an element of bluff in this because it is generally thought that the chance of the PM backing EU withdrawal is extremely remote.

Hammond said he agreed with Cameron about the importance of not ruling out anything. But he also said there would be big challenges for Britain outside the EU “because many of our important trade and investment partners around the world see us primarily as a very user-friendly gateway into the European Union”.

Powered by article was written by Andrew Sparrow Political correspondent, for on Sunday 8th November 2015 13.32 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010