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EU Reform

Volume 596: debated on Tuesday 9 June 2015

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have already started talking to our counterparts about our agenda for change in Britain’s relationship with the EU. We have set out British concerns with the status quo and the areas where we need to see change.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said last week that one of the guiding principles of negotiations on the UK’s future within the EU should be “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this clearly shows a real willingness by our EU partners to work with us on reform and find a flexible solution?

We were very heartened by the German Chancellor’s comments. The great majority, perhaps all, of our EU partners want Britain to remain in the European Union. They understand now, because the Prime Minister has set it out to them, what needs to be done to make that a possibility, and we are confident that they will now work with us to achieve that over the coming months.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the crisis in the eurozone over Greece’s payments to its creditors provides us with yet another opportunity to reform some of the treaties of the EU?

The crisis in the eurozone is clearly a challenge for the eurozone. Part of our agenda is to ensure that a robust framework is in place to regulate the relationships between the eurozone countries that will integrate more closely in the future and the non-eurozone countries such as Britain that are in the EU and need to be sure that they will be treated fairly and appropriately as the eurozone integrates further.

The Prime Minister set out in a number of publications and speeches the key areas in which we need to make change. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has ever engaged in a process of negotiation, but if I were to produce a piece of paper with our red lines and bottom lines on it, we would be shot; our negotiating position would be destroyed. We do not intend to proceed in that way.

17. Are there any circumstances in which, if the Foreign Secretary fails to secure agreement for real reform from our counterparts, he will join the out campaign—or is he in at any price? (900191)

I am very much with the Prime Minister when he says that we are confident that we will succeed in this negotiation, but that if our partners in Europe do not accommodate Britain’s requirements, he will rule nothing out.

22. Like many constituencies, South East Cambridgeshire contains many industries that compete in the international markets, as well as many small businesses. Will the Secretary of State engage as many of those businesses as possible in the debate on reform? (900196)

Yes, indeed. The business view is important, and I have no doubt that it will make its view clear during the referendum campaign, but I emphasise again that the British people must make the ultimate decision.

Will the Government’s objectives, which the Foreign Secretary will not tell us about, require a treaty change, no treaty change or a deferred treaty change?

The Prime Minister has been clear about the areas in which we need change, and I have referred to one of them this morning: the relationship between the eurozone and the non-eurozone has to be definitive and protected so that we can be confident that our interests will be protected in the future. It is our belief and our understanding, and the legal advice that we are receiving, that the reforms that we want to see around access to welfare benefits, which were set out very specifically in the Conservative party manifesto, will require treaty change in order to proof them against judicial challenge in the European courts.

Was the Foreign Secretary one of the Ministers who persuaded the Prime Minister to reinterpret his line on collective responsibility in the referendum?

As the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, he has been consistent. Indeed, the comments that he made in his press conference yesterday afternoon were exactly the same as the comments that he made in this House last week. He feels that his previous comments were misinterpreted. He has now clarified the situation and we are able to move on.

As a sign that Europe is open to reform and is willing to renegotiate, would it not be sensible for Her Majesty’s Government to help Switzerland enforce its referendum result, getting it out of the free movement of people, as a model for British renegotiation?

On the contrary—what is happening to Switzerland is an important lesson. I have heard many people outside this House and one or two inside it talking about the Norwegian model or the Swiss model, implying that it is possible to partake fully in the single market without having to comply with single market rules. Of course, that is not the experience that the Norwegians or the Swiss have had. Access to the single market has a price, and the price is contributing to the EU budget, complying with all the EU’s rules and having no vote on how those rules are made.

The Prime Minister created utter confusion yesterday on the subject of collective Cabinet responsibility and the Government’s position on the EU referendum. Can the right hon. Gentleman clarify for the House whether Ministers will be allowed to campaign against the Prime Minister’s position during the referendum?

The Prime Minister has made the position clear. Ministers who are part of the Government are all signed up to our proposal to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union. We are all committed to success in that exercise, but we do not yet know what the outcome will be, and until we know what the outcome will be, we do not know what position the Government will take. It is simply hypothetical at this point to talk about who will be allowed to do what in relation to a position that we have not yet defined.

The question was not about what position the Government will ultimately take. It was about whether Ministers will be allowed to campaign against the Prime Minister’s view, whatever view he finally reaches. Having got no answer on that one, let us try another. Once the renegotiations are completed, the Government will have a responsibility to put their view forward and provide the British people with information that they need to take their decision. With this in mind, and bearing in mind that the Foreign Secretary last year indicated that the Government would need to be prepared to stand up from the table and walk away if necessary, what assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the consequences for jobs, growth and investment if Britain were to leave the European Union?

The Government’s position on that is very clear. We believe that Britain will be better off in a reformed European Union. The British economy clearly benefits from access to a single market of 500 million people, but this is a democracy and we are very clear that there are areas in the way the European Union operates which have become unacceptable to the British people. We need to get reform in those areas in order to have the continued consent of the British people for our membership, and thus access to that vital single market.