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08/12/2016

Cameron heckled by Eurosceptics at CBI speech

UK & Europe

Cameron heckled by Eurosceptics at CBI speech

British Prime Minister David Cameron

[DFID/Flickr]

British Prime Minister David Cameron was heckled by Eurosceptic protestors Monday (9 November) as he denied he was planning to campaign for Britain to stay in the EU regardless of the outcome of his bid for renegotiations.

Cameron was giving his speech at the Conferedation of British Industry (CBI), ahead of formally writing to European Council President Donald Tusk on Tuesday with a list of British demands for a reformed relationship with the EU, ahead of a referendum due in either 2016 or 2017.

Cameron was interrupted by two protesters who stood up and chanted “Voice of Brussels!” – eflecting a suspicion among eurosceptics that he has already made up his mind in favour of Britain staying in the EU.

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“The argument isn’t whether Britain could survive outside of Europe. Of course it could,” Cameron had previously said in his speech.

“The argument is how we could be best off,” he told the group, many of whose members are concerned about the economic consequences of a possible “Brexit”.

Cameron is to give more detail on Tuesday in his letter to on Britain’s reform demands ahead of a referendum that is due to be held by the end of 2017 at the latest – although The Times on Monday speculated that June 2016 was the prime minister’s favoured date.

“If I can’t achieve them, I rule nothing out,” Cameron said, reiterating a warning to EU leaders. “If these things can’t be fixed, then Britain would naturally ask: do we belong in this organisation?

“Is this organisation flexible enough to make sure that countries inside the eurozone can grow and succeed and countries outside the eurozone, like Britain, can get what they want?” he said.

Cameron also repeated that some of Britain’s demands would require changing EU treaties – or at least a binding promise that treaties will be changed.

“What we need to change, some of it does involve changing the treaties,” he said.

“What we need to do is get agreement from the other 27 EU countries that that’s going to happen… We need to set out that that is legally binding and irreversible,” he said.

>>READ: Mandelson: Brexit renegotiations would take ‘up to 10 years’

Cameron has long identified four broad areas where he wants to see reforms – improving competitiveness, greater “fairness” between eurozone and non-eurozone nations, sovereignty issues including an exemption from the aspiration of ‘ever-closer union’ and making it harder for migrants to claim benefits.

CBI director John Cridland said ahead of the conference that most but not all business were in favour of continued EU membership.

“Not every single CBI member thinks the same, nor every business thinks the same, but I do have an overwhelming majority of businesses that want to be in a reformed EU and a reform agenda,” he said.

Background

Britain’s governing Conservative Party won an absolute majority in the UK general election on 7 May 2015. With 12 more MPs than the other parties combined, the Conservatives no longer have to rely on a coalition partner.

Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union. The renegotiation will be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.

If he achieves the reforms, Cameron will campaign to stay in. Otherwise, the Conservatives might campaign to leave the EU. This decision could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.

Some other European countries are ready to listen to Cameron's concerns on issues such as immigration, and may be prepared to make limited concessions to keep Britain in the bloc.

But EU leaders also have their red lines, and have ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.

Timeline

  • November: David Cameron to announce his views on EU reform.
  • 17-18 December: EU summit dedicated to possible reforms to accommodate the UK ahead of the referendum.
  • 2016: Likely year for British EU referendum.
  • 2017: Self-imposed end of year deadline for British Prime Minister David Cameron to hold his in/out referendum.