Cameron seeks Germany’s assistance for EU changes
David Cameron has made a fresh appeal for German support over changes he is seeking to the European Union, saying they are key to the UK’s membership.
The UK prime minister, who is on a visit to Germany, argued that his desired changes would benefit Europe’s largest economy as well as the UK.
Curbing migrants’ benefits and other moves would make a “big difference” to whether the UK stayed, he suggested.
Mr Cameron is pushing for an EU-wide agreement at a summit next month.
He is seeking a “better deal” from the EU as a prelude to holding an in-out referendum on the UK’s continued membership by the end of 2017 at the latest.
If a deal is reached on the UK’s four main renegotiation objectives in February, there is speculation that Mr Cameron will call the referendum – in which voters will be asked whether they want the UK to remain a member of the EU or to leave – in June.
With the unofficial referendum campaign moving up a gear, a new cross-party campaign group pushing for EU exit is to be launched.
Conservative MPs Peter Bone and Tom Pursglove, Labour’s Kate Hoey and UKIP Leader Nigel Farage will announce the formation of Grassroots Out at a series of public meetings across the country.
And former prime minister Gordon Brown will argue on Thursday that Scotland could achieve a clear 70% majority in favour of staying in the EU if campaigners put forward a “positive, principled, progressive and patriotic” case.
In a speech to the inaugural meeting of the Scottish Labour Movement for Europe, he will warn that there are “no plus points” for leaving the EU and that the UK will be reduced to a “bit-part player” by doing so.
David Cameron’s four main aims for renegotiation
- Economic governance: Securing an explicit recognition that the euro is not the only currency of the European Union, to ensure countries outside the eurozone are not disadvantaged. The UK wants safeguards that it will not have to contribute to eurozone bailouts
- Competitiveness: Setting a target for the reduction of the “burden” of excessive regulation and extending the single market
- Immigration: Restricting access to in-work and out-of-work benefits to EU migrants. Specifically, ministers want to stop those coming to the UK from claiming certain benefits until they have been resident for four years.
- Sovereignty: Allowing Britain to opt out from further political integration. Giving greater powers to national parliaments to block EU legislation.
German backing is regarded as crucial to the UK getting the deal it wants, particularly over the most contentious issue of migration and welfare – in which Mr Cameron is seeking a four-year ban on new arrivals from the EU having access to in-work benefits.
Mr Cameron held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday in Bavaria, where he is attending the annual conference of her sister party, the Christian Social Union. He is due to speak at the conference on Thursday morning before travelling on to Hungary.
The PM’s spokeswoman said the two leaders agreed that work should continue “at pace” on the renegotiations, with the aim of “finding solutions in all four areas which matter most to the British people”.
Writing in Bild – Germany’s best-selling newspaper – Mr Cameron said Germany could help “deliver” the changes he wanted in welfare and other areas, such as safeguards for countries outside the eurozone, greater powers for national parliaments, and a deregulation drive to boost competitiveness.
“The problems in the EU that we are trying to fix are problems for Germany and other European partners too,” he wrote.
“We want to stop people taking out from a welfare system without contributing to it first. Because like Germany, Britain believes in the principle of free movement of workers. But that should not mean the current freedom to claim benefits from day one.”
Mr Cameron said the UK and Germany did “vital work” together in Europe, sharing the same views on trade, security, counter-terrorism and foreign development, and he hoped the two would continue to co-operate within the EU.
“These changes would make a big difference in persuading the British people to vote to remain in the EU,” he added.
“Securing these changes will mean we can continue our EU partnership into the future, and they will make the EU safer and more prosperous for generations to come.”
The prime minister announced on Monday that cabinet ministers would be allowed to campaign for EU exit while remaining in the government, a major concession to those who want the UK to sever its ties with Brussels.
Mr Cameron has said he will “rule nothing out” if he does not get the changes he wants from negotiations with the EU’s 27 other leaders but has made it clear he wants the UK to remain within a “reformed” EU.
Several Tory backbenchers have described the renegotiations as a sham and said the only way the UK can regain control of its borders and greater sovereignty is by leaving the EU.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said on Wednesday that so-called “Brexit” was essential “to becoming a self-governing, independent nation”.