Philip Hammond: UK should be prepared to 'walk away' from EU if negotiations unsuccessful

Despite this foreign secretary added he believed the agreement on the UK borders was 'within reach'

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The Independent Online

The UK should be prepared to “walk away” from the European Union if current negotiations are unsuccessful, according to Philip Hammond.

Britain’s foreign secretary acknowledged that regaining “unfettered” control of the UK’s border would not be possible as a member of the EU – but added that he believed an agreement was within reach, including “stretching” freedom of movement rules in order to restrict EU migrant numbers.

Mr Hammond told the Daily Telegraph: “We’re in the beginning stages of a negotiation and first of all, never, never go into any negotiation unless you’re prepared to stand up from the table and walk away. We have to be prepared to.”

His remarks come following a stark warning from former PM John Major, who claimed that chances of Britain leading the EU were “just under 50 per cent” – and would be more likely should negotiations fail.

The foreign secretary also claimed that “substantial, meaningful reform” could happen - without requiring a treaty change.

Doing so would greatly help Prime Minister David Cameron, who hopes to change the UK’s relationship with the EU before a referendum.

“If your ambition is that we have total, unfettered control of our own borders to do what we like, that isn’t compatible with membership of the European Union, it’s as simple as that,” he told the newspaper.

“And people who advocate that know jolly well it is not compatible with membership of the European Union. So if that’s what you want, you’re essentially talking about leaving the European Union.”

Mr Hammond reported there has been behind-the-scenes discussions surrounding various EU member states’ “red lines” regarding Britain’s renegotiation.

In particular, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel has warned Mr Cameron he is pushing the UK to a “point of no return” – and that the principle of free movement is non-negotiable.

However, Mr Hammond claimed these remarks were not “strictly true”.

“[The Germans] are aware of the fact that we have to deal with what is perceived to be a real issue in the UK if we’re going to win a referendum and keep the UK in the European Union”, he said.

Other EU member states have also voiced their dissatisfaction over the direction of events in the UK.

Quoted in the Telegraph, one senior French official allegedly said that Mr Cameron’s reaction over the extra £1.7billion contribution to EU coffers had been “completely crazy”.

The source, reputed to be close to French president François Hollande, continued: “Marine Le Pen would behave like that in France, because it is the best way to show that there is no European solidarity”.