The British Prime Minister David Cameron will table his four key demands for the UK’s continued membership of the EU on Tuesday (10 November), in make-or-break negotiations which will see the country vote on whether to stay or leave the bloc by the end of 2017.
Describing his objectives as not “Mission Impossible”, Cameron will finally set out the negotiating points in writing in a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk later Tuesday – after months of diplomatic shadow-boxing.
The most controversial is likely to be a demand that EU migrants to the UK are denied benefits until after a four-year residency period – something that will pit the UK against East European allies such as Poland, Tusk’s home country.
Britain – which joined the 28-member bloc in 1973, but is outside both the Eurozone and the Schengen border-free pact – will then hold a referendum on the outcome, most likely during 2016.
The four demands are: guarantees of fairness for non euro zone members, greater competitiveness, exemption from the principle of “ever-closer union” and tackling freedom of movement abuses.
“There will be those who say, here and elsewhere in the EU, that we are embarked on Mission Impossible,” Cameron will say in a speech in London, according to advance extracts released by his office. “I do not believe so for a minute.”
The British leader has said he favours staying in a reformed EU but he will also use the speech to give his strongest warning yet that he might back Britain leaving the 28-member bloc unless other leaders agree to his demands.
The letter will mark the start of the renegotiation period before a December summit of EU leaders to hammer out the details of Britain’s new terms.
“The European Union has a record of solving intractable problems. It can solve this one. Let us therefore resolve to do so,” he will say in the letter.
Cameron has ramped up the case against those wanting to leave the EU in recent weeks, stressing the benefits of being in a reformed organisation, after polls showed a narrowing gap between the “Yes” and “No” camps.
Although opinion polls show that a majority of Britons favour staying within the EU, there is a large proportion of ‘don’t knows’ among voters, and London is conscious of the close result in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.
One likely tactic of the British position is to argue that the Conservatives’ election manifesto – on which they were narrowly elected in May – promised to curb benefits for EU migrants.
Cameron spoke with Tusk by phone in advance of the release, which will be accompanied by a meeting between British Chancellor George Osborne and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The issue is top of the agenda for a European summit in December, with Cameron reported by The Times to want a quick referendum next June if his negotiation is successful.
The letter comes nearly three years after Cameron promised a vote on Britain’s membership, under pressure from the populist UK Independence Party, and his own party’s right-wing.
Many of the points, including on competitiveness and an exemption for Britain from further integration, are not expected to be controversial.
But Cameron’s demand for limits on welfare for EU migrants could prove contentious, and may bump up against non-discrimination principles in EU legislation.
Two protesters interrupted a speech Cameron delivered at the Confederation of British Industry on Monday with heckles, chanting “Voice of Brussels.”