Tuesday 24 April 2018

Cameron vows to get tough in negotiations with the EU

David Cameron stands with his wife Samantha after his address to the Conservative Party conference at in Manchester. Photo: Reuters
David Cameron stands with his wife Samantha after his address to the Conservative Party conference at in Manchester. Photo: Reuters

Jill Lawless in London

British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed yesterday to get tough in European Union negotiations, crack down on extremism, make Britain a more equal country - and then resign.

In a speech to the governing Conservative Party's annual conference, Mr Cameron said he would create a "Greater Britain" before leaving office before the 2020 national election.

The road may not be entirely smooth. Mr Cameron leads a party that's euphoric after an unexpected election victory but bitterly divided over whether Britain's future lies inside or outside of the European Union.

Mr Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on membership of the 28-nation bloc by the end of 2017, and argues that Britain should stay in as long as he can negotiate looser ties.

But many in his party are sceptical of the benefits of membership, and the hundreds of thousands of refugees flowing to and through the EU this year have boosted the 'exit' side of the 'Brexit' debate.

Mr Cameron assured delegates in Manchester that he had "no sentimental attachment" to the EU and was "only interested in two things: Britain's prosperity and Britain's influence".

"That's why I'm going to fight hard in this renegotiation - so we can get a better deal and the best of both worlds," he said.

The party's poll ratings have surged further since the main opposition Labour Party elected previously obscure left-winger Jeremy Corbyn as leader last month. Mr Cameron, who turns 49 tomorrow, accused Mr Corbyn of having a "Britain-hating ideology", and aimed to win over Labour centrists with a vision of "one-nation" Conservatism, both patriotic and progressive.

He said the Conservatives were "the party of the fair chance", and would do more to build new homes, reduce poverty, rehabilitate prisoners and remove discrimination that holds back women, gay and lesbian people, ethnic minorities and disabled people. "You can't have true opportunity without real equality," he said.

He also said the government would end "passive tolerance" of extremist ideas and introduce inspections for institutions that offer children religious education, including Christian Sunday schools, Jewish yeshivas and Muslim madrassas. "If you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down," he said

The Conservative conference has given a platform to Mr Cameron's potential successors, including Treasury chief George Osborne, Home Secretary Theresa May and London Mayor Boris Johnson.

The party faces strong opposition from trade unions and campaigners for the disabled, the poor and others most affected by government spending cuts. Some 60,000 people protested outside the Conservative conference when it opened on Sunday, and a few spat and hurled eggs at delegates entering the conference centre.

Mr Cameron cited not only the troops of the First and Second World Wars, but also the Suffragettes and Gay Pride militants among those who had fought to secure Britain's freedoms.

"Over the next five years we will show that the deep problems in our society - they are not inevitable," said Mr Cameron. "That a childhood in care doesn't have to mean a life of struggle. That a stint in prison doesn't mean you'll get out and do the same thing all over again. That being black, or Asian, or female, or gay doesn't mean you'll be treated differently."

He called for "a Greater Britain - made of greater expectations, where renters become home-owners, employees become employers, a small island becomes an even bigger economy and where extremism is defeated once and for all".

At the conclusion of a conference, which has been dominated by jockeying for position in the looming leadership race triggered by his announcement he will not seek a third term, Mr Cameron made a point of handing out praise to some of the leading contenders for the succession.

And he restated his ambition to secure reforms in the UK's relationship with the EU which would allow him to advocate a vote to stay in the union in the in/out referendum planned by the end of 2017.

He insisted that more spending cuts were required to complete the battle for economic recovery at a time when Labour had "given up any sensible, reasonable, rational arguments on the economy".

Mr Cameron was joined on stage by wife Samantha as he took a standing ovation from activists at the end of his 55-minute speech.

Irish Independent

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