Prime Minister David Cameron will say on Tuesday(10) that his demands for reform in the European Union are not “Mission Impossible” but rather the price EU leaders must pay if he is to keep Britain in the bloc.
Cameron, who has frustrated some EU officials by giving away few details on the changes he would like to see, will send a letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, setting out his four main objectives.
Likely to be vaguely worded, the prime minister will outline Britain’s demands including financial and economic safeguards for those countries outside the 19 member euro zone and to ensure the European Union becomes more competitive.
He will also ask for Britain to be excluded from the principle of “ever-closer union” and to strengthen the role of national parliaments. Most tricky will be a request to restrict for a time access to British welfare or in-work benefits for migrants from other EU states.
“There will be those who say, here and elsewhere in the EU, that we are embarked on Mission Impossible,” Cameron will say in a speech in London, according to advance extracts released by his office. “I do not believe so for a minute.”
The British leader has said he favours staying in a reformed EU but he will also use the speech to give his strongest warning yet that he might back Britain leaving the 28-member bloc unless other leaders agree to his demands.
The French daily, Liberation, called his threats: “EU exit: Cameron’s blackmail” - a feeling shared by some other European officials, who complain that Britain is becoming a continual irritant by demanding frequent changes to suit it needs. Even if he wins support for his reforms in Brussels he will face patches of stubborn resistance at home among Eurosceptics, including some in his Conservative Party, which has been divided over the European Union for decades.
“The fundamental change in the relationship with the European Union, which is what we were originally told would be the objective, is simply not on the agenda anymore,” veteran Eurosceptic lawmaker in Bill Cash told the BBC. He said that even if Cameron deliveredhis aims, he would vote to leave.
The letter will mark the start of the renegotiation period before a December summit of EU leaders to hammer out the details of Britain’s new terms. Cameron has promised a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU by the end of 2017. “The European Union has a record of solving intractable problems. It can solve this one. Let us therefore resolve to do so,” he will say in the letter.
Cameron has ramped up the case against those wanting to leave the EU in recent weeks, stressing the benefits of being in a reformed organisation and warning that Britain could see its security compromised if it left.
Most Britons say they will vote to stay in the European Union, according to opinion polls so far, but the gap has narrowed between the “Yes” and “No” camps largely driven by fears over migration after thousands have arrived on EU shores. Some officials fear the ‘in’ campaign has been left on the backfoot, its message that Britons should be happy with the status quo drowned out by the more vocal arguments about sovereignty.