Speech on EU reform


It is great to be with Siemens, a business that believes so much in Britain and has invested so much in Britain and we want you to go on doing that.

And as you say, today, I want to talk to you about this vital issue of Britain and Europe because we have had some difficult years in our economy in the years gone past, it hasn’t been easy, but we have been working to a plan, to get Britain to keep moving forward.

We have got our economy growing, we have got the deficit coming down, we have got 2.3 million more people in work than when I became your Prime Minister, but it is a tough, difficult and dangerous world out there, and that is why it is so important we get this argument about Britain and Europe right and I am determined that we do.

And as we do, I am very clear about the aim I have got in all this. My aim is for a country that is more prosperous, that is more secure, that gives people the chance to live that secure and decent and good life. That is what it is all about and my aim is to give Britain the chance to be in a reformed European Union.

That is the aim.


Well, because Britain is a trading nation. We have got this market of 500 million people in Europe, the single market, a quarter of the world’s economy, and Britain has always needed those markets to be open and to play a part in those markets.

So, if we can secure that future and deal with the problems we have had with Europe, that I think would be the best of both worlds. But we have had real problems, with the European Union and our membership of the European Union and so I think the right thing is to deal with those problems and give people the choice about whether to stay in a reformed European Union or leave and as Jurgen said, “go it alone”.

That is the choice. But we have got to deal with the problems, deal with the issues.

Now, what do you think?

What do we think are the real problems we have got with Europe?

Well, I would say there are 4, 4 that stand out the most clearly.

The first is a question of sovereignty.

Britain is a strong, proud and independent country with a great history, with strong institutions, and people believe – I believe – profoundly in our country and its institutions and its independence.

So, for us Europe should always be about cooperation for prosperity and cooperation to make sure we are sure.

Cooperation to make sure we can have a growing economy in the jobs and the prosperity that we want.

It should never be about losing ourselves in some kind of European superstate.

That might be for others but that is not for us.

And I think that has not been clear enough up until now, that is problem number 1.

Problem number 2 is we are a country, as I have said, that lives on its trade, its enterprise, its business, its industry, and so it is absolutely essential that Europe is open for business and as we work in Europe we are not adding bureaucracy and problems and lack of competitiveness to our businesses, we are taking them away and making sure that our businesses can succeed the world over.

And let’s be frank, up until now yes, Europe has had some success economically, but there has been too much bureaucracy, too much regulation and too many rules.

So, that is problem number 2 we have to deal with.

Problem number 3 is that I think it is right for Britain to keep the pound as our currency, not just now, but frankly forever.

The fifth largest economy in the world, and that’s what we are, should have our currency, to have our own flexibility to set our own economic policy.

Now one of the biggest things to change in Europe in the last 30 years, has been the arrival of the euro.

What we need to know in Britain is not just that we can keep our currency and we can keep it forever, but we can keep our currency while being in a European Union that will be fair to that currency.

I think, that there has been a danger in recent years that this has looked a bit too much like a euro-only club.

And so we need to fix that problem, not just keep our currency, but make sure we are treated fairly inside the European Union. That’s problem number 3.

Problem number 4 is something that I think we all feel quite strongly about, which is that in recent years the pressures of migration from overseas and movement of workers from inside the European Union has put a lot of pressure on our public services, on schools, and on hospitals and on communities and look we are country that is in favour of people that come here who work hard, who make a contribution.

Britain has succeeded through immigration not in spite of immigration and we do believe, I think, in the free movement within the European Union, that the British people get the chance to go to work and study and sometimes even retire in other European countries and we want those things but the pressure has been too great and we want that pressure to be dealt with.

So that’s what I would say, the 4 things that need to be sorted out in Europe.

We want to have a Europe where we are not subsumed into a superstate but that we can be proud and independent, we want a Europe that is competitive, we want a Europe that respects our currency and treats us fairly.

Now I am sure that other people have other things that they would like to sort out, and maybe we can have a seminar on that in a minute, but I think that those 4 things go to the heart of what we need to fix.

So that is why I said, “let us have a renegotiation, if I am elected”, as I said before the election we will start a renegotiation in Europe to reset these rules and get reform in Europe and then we will hold a referendum and give the British people a real choice if you want to stay in this reformed organization or would you want to go.

And when I said let’s have a referendum I know there was a lot of scepticism, people sort of said “well these things are always promised, but politicians never actually deliver them”.

Well, we have.

We have legislated for a referendum, it’s the law of the land. It has to happen by the end of 2017 and my view, if we can get the deal we need, it should happen a good deal earlier.

People also said, “you’ll never actually get a renegotiation, these other countries, they won’t really sit down and negotiate with you about these changes you want to make”.

Well, that is exactly what has happened. We have had a series of discussions and negotiations and today the European Council has issued a whole set of documents about the things that should change in Europe, and pressing these British issues that we put on the table.

Now of course, some people said to me, “don’t start a renegotiation being reasonable and being diplomatic, just kick over the table, storm out of the room and wait until they call you back in”.

Well, I didn’t take that. I took the view that Britain, as the second biggest contributor to the European Union, a major player in the European Union, we should go about this in a proper, planned, measureable, measured and sensible way and that is what I have done these last 7 months, going to the individual European countries, meeting with the Prime Ministers, meeting with the Presidents, explaining the issues that Britain has, putting them on the table and saying we want to, with your consent, your agreement and consensus, we want to fix these issues.

And I think that has been the right way to do it. So how have we got on?

Today this document is coming out, it has come out now and you can get it online, you can see how we got on.

So let’s go through those 4 problems that I identified.

Problem number 1, Britain being a proud, independent country and not wanting to be in a superstate.

Well for the first time ever, we have got now a specific carve out that says, while the other European countries might want to have an ever-closer union, that is not the path we are pursuing.

We are carved out of ever-closer union in terms of the future. It even says very clearly we do not have to aim for the same destination.

We are there for trade, we are there for cooperation, we are there to work together on the things that can make us more secure, we are there to work on things when there are problems like crime, or environment like pollution that crosses borders.

We are not part of an ever-closer union.

And we didn’t just get that we got something else.

I said I wanted the national parliaments, our Parliament to be able to work with other national parliaments, to block measures they didn’t like.

And if Brussels comes up with some crazy scheme, we can get hold of other parliaments and work together with ours and put a red light up and it doesn’t go any further.

People told me I would not get that, and it is there in black and white in the document. I also said we wanted something else.

For years Brussels has talked about this idea that the power should be flowing from Brussels back to the member states, rather than the other way around.

They have a fancy word for it, its called ‘subsidiarity’, nobody knows what it means and I promise not to use it again but it is a very simple idea, Europe should look at what its powers are and if it is not using them is should give them back to nation states, that again is in the document.

That is going to happen and there is going to be an annual discussion about powers that they are not using that should come back to Britain.

So, that is the first issue, the sovereignty issue we were fussed about. I think, pretty good measures in this document.

Now let me be clear.

This is not finished yet, we have still got to negotiate and we still have to fill in all the details and have everyone else agree but I think that those proposals in that first area are pretty strong.

The second area, making sure Europe is competitive, making sure we are helping our businesses not holding them back.

How have we done there?

Well I said what I wanted was for Europe to hardwire into its DNA, into its very make-up, the idea of being more competitive, to sign trade deals with the fastest growing countries in the world, not being a ‘fortress Europe’ but getting out there and helping business. How have we done on that one?

Well there is a separate declaration about competitiveness with all the ideas that Britain has been pushing contained within it.

Saying, ‘we have got to complete these single markets in Europe, these digital services, in services like legal services and others, in energy’, that is all there and there is something else as well, which is for the first time we are going to have targets to cut, not to decrease but to cut Brussels bureaucracy, in the key areas and they will be returned to year after year, after year.

So, I think in terms of making Europe more competitive, that second key demand we had in Britain, we have made good progress.

The third area, this issue of the euro and Britain wanting to keep the pound.

Let me be absolutely clear, we want the euro to succeed.

The eurozone countries are our biggest market, we want them to sort out economic problems, we want their economies to grow, we want to be able to trade and sell to them at the same time as keeping our own currency.

Now the issue here is just making sure that there is fairness, making sure that Europe recognises that you can have more than one currency in the European Union and for the first time in these documents that is properly recognised.

But more important than that there is a set of principles, that the European Union will have to stick to, and its says that when it comes to having another currency, like the pound sterling, there’s no discrimination, no disadvantage, no chance of us being asked to pay for eurozone projects, and if people think if this is somehow a fiction I have conjured up, last summer the eurozone countries got together and tried to use British money, to help bail out Greece.

Now, we managed to stop it through some very hard diplomacy.

But if this document is being published today becomes the law of the European Union that can never happen again, so these principles, no discrimination no disadvantage, no costs for non-euro countries to pay towards the euro are very important and added to that there is a mechanism, so if we are not happy with what is happening we can pull a brake, the issues get discussed properly, and Britain’s concerns as a country outside the eurozone will be properly taken on board.

So that is the third vital area where we need change.

What about the fourth one? This issue of migration and the pressure that has been put on Britain’s public services, health, education, housing.

I think a real concern, it was at the election.

You felt it on every doorstep, on every street.

People want us to fix this issue.

They don’t want no immigration, they want balanced immigration, and that’s what I want.

Now of course, we have to take more action from outside the European Union, and we will, but inside the European Union, we do need to take action.

Now what I said we needed to do, was to address the fact that our welfare system is something of a draw for people coming to work in the United Kingdom.

That up to now we have given instant access to our in-work welfare system, to people that want to come here and work and make a contribution.

So what have we got in this document?

What we have got is basically something I asked for which is that people shouldn’t be able to come here and get instant access to our in-work welfare system.

We should end ‘something for nothing’.

What is proposed is an emergency brake, that means we don’t have to pay full rates of welfare for 4 years in the United Kingdom.

Now I was told that I would never get a 4-year proposal, and yet that is what is in the document.

That we don’t have to pay welfare in full for 4 years.

And that the European Commission has said that as far as they are concerned, Britain qualifies for this emergency brake, right now.

So, I think that is a very big change, something we were told we would not be able to achieve, it wasn’t possible but there It is in the document and that is not the only thing.

I also said, I don’t think it’s right if people come and work here, but they leave their families at home that we should pay British rates of child benefits, to their families that might be staying in a much lower cost country.

And so in this document is the proposal that if someone comes from another country in Europe, that they get the child benefit paid at the local rate, not at our very generous British rate.

Now in the election, what I said was that I think there are 4 things in this welfare area that needed to be sorted out.

Very simple, very straightforward and I think everyone will understand.

I said firstly, if you come to Britain looking for work, you don’t get paid unemployment benefit.

You come because you are going to get a job.

If you haven’t got a job after 6 months you have to return to the country you came from.

If you come and you work, you get the child benefit but paid at local rates and fourth you don’t get instant access to our welfare system, it takes 4 years before you do.

Now, if you look at those 4 things; the first we have already done, you don’t get that unemployment benefit instantly; the second, if you don’t have a job after 6 months you have to go home.

The third, yes there will be child benefit but only at your local rate, not at our national rate and fourth there is a 4-year waiting period before you get full in-work British benefits, so I think that is a very strong and powerful package.

Now as I said none of this is agreed yet, none of the detail is fixed and there is more work to be done.

This European Council doesn’t meet and discuss and debate all this for a couple of weeks but I think we have secured some very important changes, which go directly to the issues we raised as a member of the European Union.

One last thing on this immigration and welfare basket as I have called it and that is for too long we have allowed sham marriages to take place, we have allowed people who come to our country that turn out to be criminals to stay in our country.

We have allowed people to get married or use the system to get around our immigration controls and in this document is a very clear set of measures to put a stop to all of those processes.

So I think if you take those 4 areas: is Britain a proud, independent country not part of superstate? Yes.

Are we going to be in a more competitive Europe that helps us create jobs? Yes.

Are we dealing with this potential unfairness between eurozone countries and non-eurozone countries? Yes.

And are we taking the pressure off our immigration system through these welfare changes? Yes, I think we are.

As I said, this is not a done deal and there is more work to be done over these next couple of weeks but I think strong, determined and patient negotiation has achieved a good outcome for Britain and sometimes people say to me, ‘if you weren’t in the European Union would you opt to join the European Union?’

And I today that I can give a very clear answer.

If I can get these terms for British membership, I sure would opt in to be a member of the European Union because these are good terms and they are different to what other countries have.

A couple of last things from me before we have any questions.

First thing and this is something our host said today. As we get into this referendum campaign, and I hope which will start soon.

You will never hear me argue that Britain could not survive outside the European Union, of course we could, we are the fifth largest country in the world, in terms of our economy.

We have got networks all over the world, we have great business, universities, of course we could succeed. The question is not whether we could succeed it is how we could best succeed, how will we maximise our prosperity, our jobs. How will we maximise the investment into our country.

That is the question we have to address.

The second and final thing from me. I am not going to argue, even after these changes, as important as they are, that somehow the European Union is a perfect and unblemished organisation.

That is not the case.

There is still the need for reform.

There is still the need for Britain to be driving that reform.

There will still be many imperfections and many frustrations that we will have with this organisation.

But I think that if we can secure what is in this document, finish off the details and improve it still further that we will be able to show that on balance, Britain is better off, more secure, more prosperous, better chance of success for all our families and all our people inside this reformed European Union.

Here is why.

I think Britain will be better able to argue that Britain will have the best of both worlds.

Because of course, after this agreement, after these changes, Britain will be a full member of the single market, better able to argue for all the things we need for our businesses to succeed.

Britain will still be a full member of the European Council sat around the table making sure we take the tough action against Iran in order to stop them getting a nuclear weapon, or against Putin to make sure they don’t try and redraw the boundaries through force.

We will still be a full member of the things that matter to us, but we will never be in the single currency, that is not for us.

We will never be in the Schengen no borders agreement, that is not for us.

We are going to keep our borders. We are never going to sign up to things like a European army.

We are never going to sign up to an ever-closer union, we are going to make sure we maintain our independence as a country and I think we will be able to argue the best of both worlds.

So we have only got now potentially a few months before we hold this referendum, if we get this agreement.

If it goes through and we name the date for the referendum.

And I think this best of both worlds, out of the single currency, out of the Schengen borders agreement, out of the ever-closer union but in the things that work for Britain, that give us jobs, that give us security, that give us the ability to make sure we have stronger and safer world, I think that is something worth fighting for, and I am delighted to come here today to tell you about that and to answer your questions, thank you.