David Cameron has outlined his four goals for restricting benefits for people coming into the UK, and our EU relationship.
Apparently Britain face a “huge decision” in the in/out referendum promised before the end of 2017 though he was confident of getting what he wanted from reform talks.
Anti-EU campaigners brand talks “a gimmick” – and the European Commission have stated the benefits proposals could break free movement laws.
Cameron has set out his demands to the president of the European Council stating the four objectives;
• Protection of the single market for Britain and other non-euro countries
• Boosting competitiveness by setting a target for the reduction of the “burden” of red tape
• Exempting Britain from “ever-closer union” and bolstering national parliaments
• Restricting EU migrants’ access to in-work benefits such as tax credits
After claims by former Tory chancellor Lord Lawson that the four goals were “disappointingly unambitious”, Cameron hit back saying they would “good for Britain and good for the European Union” and “It is mission possible and it is going to take a lot of hard work to get there.”
Mr Cameron said it was vital to cut “very high” and “unsustainable” levels of immigration.
“But we do need to secure arrangements that deliver on objectives set out in the Conservative manifesto to control migration from the European Union.”
Mr Cameron has claimed 40% of recent European Economic Area migrants received an average of around £6,000 a year of in-work benefits.
The European Commission the proposals were “highly problematic” as they affected the “fundamental freedoms of our internal market” and amounted to “direct discrimination between EU citizens”.
Mr Cameron has said he wants the UK to stay in a reformed EU, but he has not ruled out recommending leaving if he cannot secure the change he wants with the leaders of the other 27 EU countries.
Cameron stated “You the British people will decide. At that moment you will hold this country’s destiny in your hands. This is a huge decision for our country – perhaps the biggest we will make in our lifetimes. And it will be a final decision.”
David Cameron’s letter to Donald Tusk ;
It says the UK will not stand in the way of further eurozone integration but calls for safeguards to protect British business from discrimination and a formal recognition that the EU has more than one currency.
It says: “Our concerns really boil down to one word: flexibility.”
On immigration, the letter calls for a “crackdown on the abuse of free movement”, including longer re-entry bans for fraudsters and those who engage in “sham marriages” – and stronger powers to deport criminals.
People coming to the UK “must live here and contribute for four years before they qualify for in-work benefits or social housing”, writes Mr Cameron.
The PM says he hopes the letter will “provide a clear basis” for reaching a “legally-binding and irreversible” agreement and “where necessary have force in treaties”.
If an agreement can be reached on his four demands, Mr Cameron tells Mr Tusk: “I am ready to campaign with all my heart and soul to keep Britain inside a reformed European Union.”
Mr Cameron said: “When you look at the challenges facing European leaders today, the changes that Britain is seeking do not fall in the box marked ‘impossible’.
“They are eminently resolvable, with the requisite political will and political imagination.”
He told the BBC that Labour’s position was that Britain should stay in the EU and “negotiate our reform agenda as members of the club”.
UKIP Leader Nigel Farage said it was clear Mr Cameron “is not aiming for any substantial renegotiation”, with “no promise to regain the supremacy of Parliament, nothing on ending the free movement of people and no attempt to reduce Britain’s massive contribution to the EU budget”.
Will Straw the director of Britain Stronger in Europe, said: “Today the prime minister has set out a series of sensible and sound reforms to improve Britain’s relationship with Europe. It is now clear that Leave campaigners are losing the argument.”
Mr Cameron’s speech comes after he told the ‘CBI conference’ on Monday he had no “emotional attachment” that would stop him backing a UK exit if his EU renegotiation failed.
The referendum must be held by the end of 2017. However there is speculation that the referendum could be held as soon as June next year to which Downing Street dismissed as “not true”.