Cameron's hardest speech


Europe: Conservative group demands return of powers to UK

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On Friday, David Cameron will make one of the most difficult speeches of his premiership.

He and his advisers have been working on it for months. Delivery dates have come and gone. In trying to set out how he sees Britain's place in a changing Europe, he will inevitably disappoint.

Some will question why a vote cannot be held this side of an election. Others will accuse of him of leaving Britain's future in Europe open to question - and that could unsettle potential investors in the UK. Some will say that Britain faces years of argument and debate before the issue is settled.

What is undeniable is that Europe is changing profoundly. Not by choice but by necessity. If the eurozone is to survive there will have to be much tighter integration. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken of moving towards a political union.

That, in itself, is one reason why this will be a slow-burning debate. Nothing will happen quickly. The government believes there is no point in consulting the British people until it is clear how Europe will develop. And that could take years.

Natural allies

The prime minister's plan depends on him being re-elected in 2015. It then depends on events in Europe. Sometime after the German election in September, Chancellor Merkel has indicated she may push for a change to the treaties in order to correct some of the basic flaws in the euro.

A treaty change will enable Mr Cameron to demand something in return for British agreement. Treaty change is rarely swift, however. Negotiations over the Lisbon Treaty lasted eight years. It would not take so long with a treaty change - but we could be talking about 2018 or later before the British people have their say.

The negotiations will be complex. There is little appetite in Europe for making major concessions to the UK. I am in Germany at the moment. The Germans want Britain in the EU. That is not in doubt. They see the UK as an ally over free trade and open markets.

They also see Britain as a counter- balance to France and the southern European countries. German support will not come at any price, however. Angela Merkel believes her legacy is tied to saving the euro, and will not allow Britain to put obstacles in the way.

The Germans would prefer to avoid any debate about opt-outs and returning powers to Westminster. What Berlin is prepared to do is to join London in reducing regulation and revisiting what can best be left to a national parliaments rather than decided at a European level.

This is where David Cameron would have little room for manoeuvre. Many in the Conservative party would not be satisfied with just less regulation. They want opt-outs from policing and criminal justice and some employment laws. (David Cameron is unlikely to present a shopping list of demands on Friday.)

A review on what "competences" would be up for negotiation will not be completed until 2014.

New deal

Many Conservative back-benchers will only settle for powers being repatriated. Some in the government believe that the very word "repatriate" puts up backs in Europe. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has suggested a "rebalancing" of powers. Potentially, the UK has a lot of allies when it discusses what can best be done at a national level, or what can make Europe work better and be less intrusive or bureaucratic. But "repatriating" powers will involve a fight with countries like France.

Joaquin Almunia, an EU Commissioner, says that renegotiating terms of membership would be "extremely difficult".

The government will also have to manage expectations. There will be no point in consulting the British people if there is just a change, say, to the working time directive. The whole exercise will not have been worth the effort. In order to justify seeking the consent of the British people, there will have to be a new deal, with the relationship with Europe put on a new footing.

The prime minister has spoken of voters being given a "real choice". That may not, of course, be through a referendum.

If there is a referendum - whatever the question - it will be regarded as an "in-or-out" vote, and there are many senior people in Europe who would want it that way. Among some leaders, there is a real desire to end the uncertainty with Britain once and for all.

So if there is to be a "fresh settlement" of Britain's role in Europe, it will not come quickly or easily.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    Mr Cameron's EU negotiating skills will be tested to the full during discussions on repatriation of powers.

    History has an instructive lesson, which David Cameron will probably recall better than most.

    Has Mr Cameron learned anything about negotiation since the Black Wednesday debacle, when propping up the £ in the ERM cost the UK almost £30bn?

  • rate this

    Comment number 604.

    #600 QueerEZ

    " & refusal to allow others to blame them is dangerous. They seem to be acting out of evilness, stupidity and stubborness."

    --Never read German blogs ?

    --unlike many others --they blame themselves !

    --their criticism begins at home --and it is much harsher that any Brit can offer -- using logic and knowledge (of course)

    -- a ´minor´ difference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.

    all other EU countries have to agree to a new EU entry

    David Cameron has said Scotland will defintely be a successor state to the UK, must be to acquire a share of UK national debt therefore Barrusso is wrong but even if not, Scottish people would still be EU citizens so they would have all the rights of EU citizens but Scotland would not need to obey EU rules or contribute

  • rate this

    Comment number 602.

    596, I wouldn't be surprised if a great proportion of those freedoms actually take away the freedom of choice.
    What good is it, if our company's have to obey so many laws, they go under and all the jobs go to China, we then have to buy goods from countries with no laws to protect their workers, a Pyrrhic victory.
    I worked for years in the rag trade, completely killed off since the 70's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

    574. mappamundiman
    Your post shows your ignorance

    A UKIP member recently suggested that there should be compulsory abortions for women with Downs Syndrome children and euthanasia for older sick people. Eugenics pure and simple.

    Please don't patronise me about your warped view of UK history. You obviously have a halo attitude to how great the British are (and we are) but cut the hysterics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 600.

    The Germans have got it presently & won't admit it. Their need to discipline others who they blame for the EZ problem, & refusal to allow others to blame them is dangerous. They seem to be acting out of evilness, stupidity and stubborness. If they can get it right & solve the crisis by allowing more democracy within the EZ, then the threat of UK leaving will become what it really is, a dud.

  • rate this

    Comment number 599.

    If Scotland leaves GB and we leave the EU, will we repatriate the Scots?

    hard to do since they will have British & EU nationality, only people resident in Scotland will be citizens of Scotland & no one may have their nationality removed without their consent. those born after independance will be Scottish or English nationals but everyone born before will still be British

  • rate this

    Comment number 598.

    593, all other EU countries have to agree to a new EU entry, it's not just Spain who could veto Scotland, Bulgaria, Romania etc are better of with less enlargement, as smaller countries as Scotland would be, are net recipients which mean they get a smaller slice of the pie.
    If things run smoothly it could still take years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    Be prepared for the government to fall within 6 months as the people have spoken

    Cameron has already instructed the treasurey to make plans for an exit

    Expect Germany to broker a deal here after the German Elections

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    583. Dailymailreader

    Clueless dribble. I enjoy far more freedoms under the EU than I ever did as a citizen of just the UK. 973 freedoms to be precise. However, they are probably the ones that you wouldn't recognise as freedoms but would classify as 'burdens'. Well I am glad they are there to keep people like you under control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    #591 dmr

    " what happened was wrong in 1922,"

    -- !967 is NOT 1922 !

    --22 years after the war.

    --But only repealed in 1976 --along with many others --Thanks to the Europe you disagree with !

  • rate this

    Comment number 594.

    I am of the opinion that the Euro crisis and the EU economy slowing to nearly a halt , has crippled the EU beyond repair , like a big building after an earthquake . Britain's leaving or repatriating laws , could cause the whole structure to collapse . I do not believe that further EU integration or an eventual trasfer economy will save the EU . Britain needs to free herself completely .

  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    MH, Spain has already said it will veto Scottish EU membership, Mr Barrosso said Scotland will have to apply, at the back of the waiting list, strait from the horses *****

    its not Barrosso's decision to make & who knows who'll be running Spain or if Spain in its current form will even exist when the time comes assuming other countries have a veto which they may not

  • rate this

    Comment number 592.

    #583 dmr

    The act was repealed in 1976 --just in time for the Common Market !

    --and long before the TRUTH came out !

  • rate this

    Comment number 591.

    588, what happened was wrong in 1922, but Germany relocating millions of children to concentration camps sixteen years later was far worse.
    590, in the 1970's before the EU, workers ruled the roost, they certainly didn't have conditions like you've just described.

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.


    "...taking away personal freedoms..."


    What personal freedom would anyone have left, if an employer can demand they appear at work, at the drop of a hat, 24/365, yet only pay them for the hours when there?

    This is the type of protection the anti-EU faction of the tories, UKIP etc. seek to remove.

  • rate this

    Comment number 589.

    it is all about controlling the masses. they are laughable,it is a mess and still they want to waste more of our time and money on pathetic failings.angela merkel , EU and world leader/dictator buddies are ridiculous

  • rate this

    Comment number 588.

    #583 dmr

    ".. taking away personal freedoms would we have signed up?"

    Do you remember this one --and the suffering it caused ?

    Empire Settlement Act 1922
    Empowered the Secretary of State to formulate and co-operate in migration and settlement schemes to encourage Britons to settle in Her Majesty’s Overseas Dominions

    "more than 150,000 children who were forcibly relocated from Britain "

  • rate this

    Comment number 587.

    Unless there is a promose of an IN/OUT referendum on Britain's relationship with the EU , David Cameron seriously runs the risk of losing the 2015 general election . Negotiating return of many powers to Westminster , would be a lengthy draw out project with much EU argument and ill feeling . At the end I do not believe it would satisfy the British public a majority of whom want OUT

  • rate this

    Comment number 586.

    So much for the EU guaranteeing quality, Dutch, Spanish firms secretly bulking beef imports with horse, pork and selling it as more expensive beef.
    After last years scandal of chicken products bulked out with beef gristle from Germany, we should stick to buying British.


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