UK Politics

Leaked note suggests Cameron's 'firm aim' to stay in EU

David Cameron speaking to journalists after the EU summit Image copyright Reuters

David Cameron's "firm aim" is to ensure the UK remains in the EU and he will warn of the risks of exit in a future referendum, it has been reported.

The Guardian said his intentions were revealed in an account of a meeting with another EU leader it had obtained.

It said the note suggested Mr Cameron believed "people will ultimately vote for the status quo if the alternatives can be made to appear risky".

But the PM said he "ruled nothing" out if he didn't get the deal he wanted.

And Downing Street said there would be no "running commentary" on the negotiations.

The leaked note suggests Mr Cameron is planning to focus his EU referendum campaign on the "risky" consequences of a British exit.

The claims emerged as Mr Cameron said he was confident he could negotiate a "new and different" membership of the EU "rooted in the national interest" and insisted it was "always" his view that securing treaty change was unlikely before a referendum takes place.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Cameron said he had briefed EU leaders on specific reforms he wanted to see in four key areas: sovereignty, fairness, competitiveness and immigration.

But, as he did so, the Guardian published details of the account of a meeting that the PM held with one of his EU counterparts in the run-up to the two-day summit.

'Achievable'

The newspaper said the document suggested Mr Cameron had formulated a relatively modest, and "achievable" reform package to secure agreement among fellow EU leaders.

Image copyright Reuters

"The PM said that he had deliberately not produced a lengthy shopping list and had been careful in formulating his wish list, but he needed to get satisfaction on these reform demands," it reportedly said.

"He said that he needed to win the middle ground and, if he is to achieve this, then moderate people needed to feel that the things that bother them about the EU have been dealt with".

The note stated that the PM's "firm aim was to was to keep the UK in the EU" and suggested he would base his campaign on highlighting the country's importance in areas including foreign policy and defence.

It also indicated that the prime minister wanted an EU referendum in 2016 - up to a year earlier than the latest date available - and believed Germany and Italy were more receptive than France to his demands for reform.

'Con job'

UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the note proved the PM was "conning people" when he said he was open-minded about the UK's future in Europe.

Asked about the note by journalists, Mr Cameron did not deny its existence and said while he wanted to make a "wholly positive" case for the UK to remain in a reformed EU, he was clear he did not rule anything out if he did not get the deal he wanted.

Insisting the negotiations would take "patience and tenacity", he joked he "did not recall Mr Farage being in the room" in any of his meetings with EU leaders over the past three weeks.

He said his approach was not to "kick the tables in" or make "immediate demands" but to make clear where changes were needed in both the UK and Europe's interests.

"People can see that Britain has got a legitimate set of questions, a legitimate set of asks and that people can see that there is a really deep and sensible thinking behind this," he said.

Treaty change

Asked about the prospect of getting the reforms embodied in treaty changes, he said it was "never the case" that he believed that this would be possible by the time of the referendum, given that the process would require votes in other EU countries as well.

What matters, he added, was "getting the substantial agreement then taking that to the British people".

In January, Mr Cameron said he would be demanding "full-on treaty change" in his negotiations and Downing Street has insisted the prime minister would not agree to any deal which was not clear about that.

Downing Street has indicated that, if necessary, the UK will seek "legally-binding" guarantees that the changes would be incorporated in future treaty amendments after 2017 to ensure they were irreversible.

But Labour said the PM had been forced into a climb down.

"The prime minister spent a lot of time saying 'yeah we've got to have treaty change' and finally yesterday (Thursday) he let it be known that perhaps there won't be treaty change immediately as a result of these negotiations," said shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn.

"So not for the first time he leads everybody up the hill, then has to say 'turn around we're going down the other side'."

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