It is much more likely that the British people
will reject the EU. That is why I am in favour of a referendum.
I believe in confronting this issue – shaping it, leading the debate. Not simply hoping
a difficult situation will go away. Some argue that the solution is therefore
to hold a straight in-out referendum now. I understand the impatience of wanting to
make that choice immediately. But I don’t believe that to make a decision
at this moment is the right way forward, either for Britain or for Europe as a whole.
A vote today between the status quo and leaving would be an entirely false choice.
Now – while the EU is in flux, and when we don’t know what the future holds and what
sort of EU will emerge from this crisis is not the right time to make such a momentous
decision about the future of our country. It is wrong to ask people whether to stay
or go before we have had a chance to put the relationship right.
How can we sensibly answer the question ‘in or out’ without being able to answer the
most basic question: ‘what is it exactly that we are choosing to be in or out of?’
The European Union that emerges from the Eurozone crisis is going to be a very different body.
It will be transformed perhaps beyond recognition by the measures needed to save the Eurozone.
We need to allow some time for that to happen – and help to shape the future of the European
Union, so that when the choice comes it will be a real one.
A real choice between leaving or being part of a new settlement in which Britain shapes
and respects the rules of the single market but is protected by fair safeguards, and free
of the spurious regulation which damages Europe’s competitiveness.
A choice between leaving or being part of a new settlement in which Britain is at the
forefront of collective action on issues like foreign policy and trade and where we leave
the door firmly open to new members. A new settlement subject to the democratic
legitimacy and accountability of national parliaments where Member States combine in
flexible cooperation, respecting national differences not always trying to eliminate
them and in which we have proved that some powers can in fact be returned to Member States.
In other words, a settlement which would be entirely in keeping with the mission for an
updated European Union I have described today. More flexible, more adaptable, more open – fit
for the challenges of the modern age. And to those who say a new settlement can’t
be negotiated, I would say listen to the views of other parties in other European countries
arguing for powers to flow back to European states.
And look too at what we have achieved already. Ending Britain’s obligation to bail-out
Eurozone members. Keeping Britain out of the fiscal compact. Launching a process to return
some existing justice and home affairs powers. Securing protections on Banking Union. And
reforming fisheries policy. So we are starting to shape the reforms we
need now. Some will not require Treaty change. But I agree too with what President Barroso
and others have said. At some stage in the next few years the EU will need to agree on
Treaty change to make the changes needed for the long term future of the Euro and to entrench
the diverse, competitive, democratically accountable Europe that we seek.
I believe the best way to do this will be in a new Treaty so I add my voice to those
who are already calling for this. My strong preference is to enact these changes
for the entire EU, not just for Britain. But if there is no appetite for a new Treaty
for us all then of course Britain should be ready to address the changes we need in a
negotiation with our European partners. The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will
ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate
a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament.
It will be a relationship with the Single Market at its heart.
And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum
with a very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out
altogether. It will be an in-out referendum.
Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative Government
is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately and pass it by the
end of that year. And we will complete this negotiation and hold this referendum within
the first half of the next parliament. It is time for the British people to have
their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics.
I say to the British people: this will be your decision.
And when that choice comes, you will have an important choice to make about our country’s
destiny. I understand the appeal of going it alone,
of charting our own course. But it will be a decision we will have to take with cool
heads. Proponents of both sides of the argument will need to avoid exaggerating their claims.
Of course Britain could make her own way in the world, outside the EU, if we chose to
do so. So could any other Member State. But the question we will have to ask ourselves
is this: is that the very best future for our country?
We will have to weigh carefully where our true national interest lies.
Alone, we would be free to take our own decisions, just as we would be freed of our solemn obligation
to defend our allies if we left NATO. But we don’t leave NATO because it is in our
national interest to stay and benefit from its collective defence guarantee.
We have more power and influence – whether implementing sanctions against Iran or Syria,
or promoting democracy in Burma – if we can act together.
If we leave the EU, we cannot of course leave Europe. It will remain for many years our
biggest market, and forever our geographical neighbourhood. We are tied by a complex web
of legal commitments. Hundreds of thousands of British people now
take for granted their right to work, live or retire in any other EU country.
Even if we pulled out completely, decisions made in the EU would continue to have a profound
effect on our country. But we would have lost all our remaining vetoes and our voice in
those decisions. We would need to weigh up very carefully the
consequences of no longer being inside the EU and its single market, as a full member.