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EU: UK Membership

Volume 589: debated on Tuesday 2 December 2014

2. What steps he has taken to prepare for renegotiation of the terms of the UK's membership of the EU with his EU counterparts; and if he will make a statement. (906369)

12. What assessment he has made of the scope for reform of the EU under the new European Commission. (906379)

I have already visited 10 member states over the past few months to discuss EU reform with my counterparts and others. More and more leaders across Europe agree that the EU needs to change. We have already made progress: the June European Council agreed that EU reform was necessary and that the UK’s concerns should be addressed.

I wish the Foreign Secretary well in his renegotiation. Does he share my view that we should be confident about achieving it? Some areas will require treaty change but others will not, particularly as there is common interest in benefits for migrant workers and in limiting the access shared by Germany, Denmark and other member states.

I agree that we should be optimistic about the scope for achieving change in the European Union because more and more of our EU partners agree with the agenda that we have set out. They agree that the European Union must reform to survive and prosper in the future. But it goes further than that. We have already had success: our Prime Minister is the first one ever to have negotiated a reduction in the EU budget; we have opted out of the eurozone bail-out fund; and we have secured vital protections for non-eurozone countries in the banking union. I am confident that we will secure the reforms that the EU so urgently needs to be more competitive and more democratically accountable and, crucially, to make it acceptable to the British people, who, under a Conservative Government, will be the ones who have the last say in 2017.

The British people should have the final say on the UK’s relationship with the EU, and I applaud the Prime Minister’s approach on an in/out referendum. The constituents who contact me support a trading partnership with Europe, but not a political union. Will the Secretary of State emphasise the vital importance of trade when discussing the future of the UK in the European Union? My constituents who work for major multinational companies headquartered in Basingstoke want to know that that is at the forefront of our negotiations.

I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. Trade is at the heart of the European Union. Completing and deepening the single market and extending it into the digital, energy and services markets—areas on which we have scarcely scratched the surface—is the way to deliver economic growth in the European Union in the future, together with completing international trade treaties such as the transatlantic trade and investment partnership that will also hugely expand our opportunities.

We are not part of the eurozone and neither is Poland. Part of a reformed European Union will have to accommodate those countries that are not part of the eurozone. When did the Secretary of State last meet his Polish counterpart to discuss what that new architecture might look like?

I have had a couple of meetings with my new Polish counterpart and had more extensive meetings with the former Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski. I will be going to Brussels later on this afternoon and will have the opportunity to meet my Polish counterpart again. What the hon. Lady says is absolutely right. An essential emerging feature of the new EU architecture is the fact of the eurozone and the non-eurozone. If those countries in the eurozone wish to pursue closer political integration, they will be able to do so. Those countries that are outside the eurozone must be assured of the integrity of the single market, even though they will not take part in that process.

When the Secretary of State is meeting all his important European Union people, will he tell them that there are many people in this country and in this House who value the peace and prosperity that the European Union has brought to this country? Given the threatening world in which we live with President Putin and all the other things that are happening, we value that relationship and want to build on it.

Of course we value the benefits that being in the European Union brings us, principally through the single market but also with security, as we have seen in the confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. What we now need to do is address the bits of the European Union that are not working effectively, that are holding Europe back so that it is no longer competitive in the world and that represent a failure of democratic accountability so that we get a European Union that is acceptable to the British people. We as a Conservative Government will allow the British people to have the final say on that.

I caution my right hon. Friend that it is rarely wise to reveal too much detail of one’s negotiating objectives more than six months before the negotiations can possibly begin. In such circumstances, one’s negotiating partners tend to give a very hostile response even in areas where they might ultimately be willing to compromise.

My right hon. and learned Friend’s advice is very wise. I think the correct approach is probably to show a little ankle, but not too much. We need to be clear to our European Union partners that we are entering negotiations with a constructive agenda. We want to get a reformed European Union and a renegotiated relationship between Britain and the European Union that is acceptable to the British people, but the hurdle is high because it will be the British people, under a Conservative Government, who make the decision in a referendum in 2017.

In his first answer this morning, the Foreign Secretary was specific about the number of European countries he has visited as Foreign Secretary, so will he now be specific about at least some of the repatriations he is seeking from the European Union? Even a little ankle will do.

The right hon. Gentleman’s question was slightly unfortunately timed, given the question asked by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). Of course we do not want to run around Europe at this stage in the negotiations with a list of specific repatriations. It is far more important to establish the principle and how we will deliver it—that is, the principle of subsidiarity and how it will be effectively overseen within the European Union.

I think that the whole House, including the Foreign Secretary’s Back Benchers, will have noted the unwillingness to name even a single repatriation, but one will do when he gets back to his feet. What is the Government’s estimate of the economic benefit of the UK’s membership of the European Union?

As I have said, we are clear that the UK benefits enormously from access to the single market in Europe. We want to remain part of the European Union and we are entering these negotiations on the basis of a clear intent to negotiate the very best deal we can for Britain, addressing the concerns clearly expressed by the British people. In the end, it will be the British people who decide whether that package is good enough.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that any change in our relationship with the European Union should be based on trade and co-operation and not on political union?

We want trade and co-operation to flourish in the European Union and we do not subscribe to the view that ever-closer union is the answer for United Kingdom. I regard it as significant progress that in the conclusions of the June European Council this year we had for the first time an explicit recognition that not every country will pursue the same level of integration and closer union. That is progress.