Monday 24 October 2016

Without reforms we’ll leave EU, warns top UK minister

Ben Riley-Smith in The Hague

Published 29/05/2015 | 02:30

Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte (right) welcomes British Prime Minister David Cameron to his official residence Catshuis in The Hague
Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte (right) welcomes British Prime Minister David Cameron to his official residence Catshuis in The Hague

Britain will vote to leave the European Union without major reforms to its membership, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has warned as he said his government will demand treaty change.

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In a warning shot ahead of Prime Minister David Cameron’s trip to European capitals, he told EU leaders to stop “obsessing” about the principle of “every closer union”.

He also became the most senior figure in the British government to say the vote on Britain’s EU membership could take place  as early as next year.

“If our partners do not agree with us, do not work with us to deliver that (reform) package, then we rule nothing out,” Mr Hammond told BBC radio.

The announcement came as Mr Cameron was meeting the leaders of France, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands for talks in a 48-hour diplomatic blitz.

Changes to the EU treaties has become one of the most contentious elements of Mr Cameron’s renegotiation aims.

Mr Cameron  has been advised treaty change is needed to secure changes to immigration and access to welfare, but European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said the issue is off the table.

Such changes would need to be ratified by every one of the EU’s 28 member states and could trigger a string of referendums across the Continent.

Speaking on BBC Radio Four, Mr Hammond reiterated that Britain wanted treaty change and warned the Britons would vote to leave Europe unless major concessions are agreed.

“The Prime Minister’s made clear that some of the demands that we are making will require treaty change to make them irreversible and substantive and make them proof against challenge in the European courts. Many other parts of the agenda will not require treaty change, but some of them will,” he said.

Mr Hammond also said in a separate interview: “We expect our European Union partners to engage with us in delivering a package that will enable the British people to decide that they think Britain’s future is best delivered inside the European Union.”

He said Britain needed “proper protection” as a non-eurozone country and voters would demand they are “not ridden over roughshod” by Europe.

“Stop obsessing about institutional structures and ideas like ever closer union which, frankly, look like yesterday’s agenda in an increasingly competitive global economy where Europe has to fight to protect the standards of living of our people,” he said.

It comes after it emerged people who want Britain to stay in the European Union will be able to campaign for a Yes vote in the in-out referendum promised by Mr Cameron.

Downing Street has disclosed that Britons will be asked in the referendum if they wish to “remain a member of the European Union”.

Mr Cameron has also suggested that he wants EU Referendum Bill, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech, to pass through Parliament in “extra quick time.”

Mr Cameron met Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague and French President Francois Hollande in Paris later last night before heading to Warsaw and Berlin today  for talks with Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Before the talks, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris would listen to Mr Cameron because it wanted Britain to stay in the EU and was ready to consider some reform if it would benefit everyone.

But Mr Fabius warned that Mr Cameron’s strategy was “very risky” and said his government would not sign up to anything that amounted to the “dismantling” of the EU. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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