David Cameron will issue his strongest warning yet that campaigners who back British membership of the European Union cannot rely on defending the status quo.
In a speech on Tuesday, the Prime Minister will argue that EU regulations could “hold back our ability to trade” and that membership has led to an “unsustainable rate of migration” into the UK. However, he will also vow to campaign “with all my heart” in favour of an in vote, in the referendum that is due by 2017, should he succeed in getting agreement for his proposed reforms.
This wish list of changes to the terms of Britain’s membership will be handed to the EU when he makes his speech. This will include broad demands of greater sovereignty for national parliaments, increasing economic competitiveness, keeping Britain away from the notion of “ever closer union”, and reducing migrants’ rights to benefits.
Mr Cameron has previously resisted listing his demands, and his letter to the European Council president, Donald Tusk, is likely to be regarded in other EU capitals as insufficiently detailed.
A No 10 source said the “temperature is increasing, things are stepping up” in negotiations with the EU over reform. The source said the UK was entering a period of “intensive political contact with member states”.
Mr Cameron is expected to say: “Those who believe we should stay in the EU at all costs need to explain why Britain should accept the status quo. I am clear that there are real problems with this.
“There are some economic risks if we allow a situation where eurozone countries could potentially spend our money, or where European regulations hold back our ability to trade and create jobs.
“And there are also significant risks if we allow our sovereignty to be eroded by ever closer union, or sit by and do nothing about the unsustainable rate of migration into our country.
“But just as those who are advocating staying in the EU at all costs have to answer serious questions, so those who think Britain should just leave now also need to think hard about the implications.
“What would being outside the European Union mean for our economic security? And what does it mean for our national security?”
Mr Cameron will insist that he will campaign to stay in “with all my heart and all my soul, because that will be unambiguously in the national interest” should he conjure a deal, before warning: “But if we can’t reach such an agreement, and if Britain’s concerns were to be met with a deaf ear, which I do not believe will happen, then we will have to think again about whether this European Union is right for us ... I rule nothing out.”
Those in favour of Brexit argued Mr Cameron is not aiming high enough, such as restricting workers’ movement and giving national parliaments a veto over EU law.
Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s campaign director, said: “We expect Cameron to get what he’s asking for, but what he’s asking for is trivial. The public wants the end of the supremacy of EU law and to take back control of our economy, our borders and our democracy. The only way to do this is to vote Leave. No 10 is panicking because people can see the re-negotiation is a dishonest gimmick.”
Writing exclusively for The Independent on Sunday, Guy Verhofstadt, Belgium’s former prime minister, points out that Mr Cameron has an open invitation to discuss his reforms with members of the European Parliament.
He warns: “If ‘ever closer union’ is not right for the British people any longer, so be it, but ... they can no longer block those EU members who wish to integrate further.”
He suggests Mr Cameron should talk explicitly about belonging to a “Two Speed” Europe, and proposes a means of the UK and eurozone members tackling treaty reform.
Meanwhile, Vote Leave is ramping up pressure on the CBI to remain neutral ahead of the organisation’s annual conference this week.
In a letter to the CBI, Mr Cummings said: “The CBI claims that eight out of 10 British businesses want to remain in the EU – but the poll it commissioned to make this claim is being investigated by the British Polling Council, who have already called it ‘pretty dodgy’.”
Vote Leave believes that far more businesses would happily exit the EU than has been suggested.
It has also written to a number of big businesses, including British Airways and BAE Systems. The letter added: “Opinion polling has consistently shown that a majority in Britain remain deeply sceptical of the EU and want the UK to regain the power to make its own trade deals.”
But Remain campaigners are furious at what they see as unwarranted pressure on the voice of British business.
Will Straw, executive director of the Britain Stronger In Europe campaign, said: “Leave campaigners are running out of arguments so are resorting instead to rubbishing this whole process…. This just proves that Leave campaigners are not, and have never been, serious about reform.”
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