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EU Politics: Cameron on Today

Richard North, 14/01/2013  


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David Cameron was interviewed on the Today programme this morning, by John Humphrys. Here is a partial transcript (very lightly edited) – the first six minutes or so:

JH: I don't expect you to give me the detail of your speech – you're not making it until next Tuesday. But can we just establish a few principles, broad principles, the sort of thing you've been talking about for a very long time now. You are in favour, or not, of a referendum?

DC: First of all, let's stand back. I'm in favour of Britain's membership of the European Union. We're a trading nation, we need access to the Single Market but more than that we need a say in the rules of that market. So I believe Britain does have a European future. But, frankly, there is a debate going on in Britain about our relationship with Europe. A lot of people are not happy, including me, with some of the nature of that relationship and I think there's an opportunity to get that relationship right. Why? Well because Europe is changing because of the single currency, so there are opportunities for us to make changes and when we make those changes what I've called a new settlement, we should make sure there's full-hearted consent for that settlement.

I'll be setting out exactly how in my speech but I'm not against referenda. I've never said …

JH: Are you in favour?

DC: Yeah, I think in some cases I think in some cases particularly …

JH: In this case?

DC: The principle I think should be this: if you are fundamentally changing the relationship between Britain and Europe then you should be having a referendum.

JH: And you've just said that relationship is changing so it follows therefore there will be a referendum and the questions that follows from that is, will it be a in-out referendum? That's what people expect.

DC: Of course. You have to wait for the speech for the full details, but obviously …

JH: But you're not ruling that out, at this stage?

DC: Obviously, I want to give people a proper choice. What I don't favour, and this is important – if we had an in-out referendum tomorrow or very shortly, I don't think that would be the right answer for the simple reason that I think we'd be giving people a false choice because right now I think there a lot of people who say, well I'd like to be in Europe but I am not happy with every aspect of the relationship so I want it to change. That is my view. So I think an in-out referendum today is a false choice.

JH: And if it doesn’t change, are you prepared to go that bit further – rather a lot further and say, therefore, I think we should leave and we will have a referendum that gives the British people the choice of in or out?

DC: Well as I've said, I'm in favour of our membership of the European Union and I'm also optimistic and confident that we can achieve changes in the European Union to make sure that Britain feels more comfortable with our relationship with Europe. I'm confident that we can do that.

JH: Well an awful lot of people are not and George Osborne, the Chancellor, has said in order that we can remain in the Union, I quote, 'the Union must change'.

DC: Yes, I think it does need to change …

JH: Do you go along with that?

DC: Yes, of course, and it is changing. There is an enormous thing happening in the European Union today which is the single currency, which we are not a member of and we're not going to join as long as I'm prime minister, is driving a process of change in Europe. Y'know, when I became Prime Minister two-and-a-half years ago, a lot of people said to me, well one thing you won't have to deal with is more treaty changes. They'e just had the Lisbon Treaty, you won't have any more treaty changes. Well we've had three proposed already in the last two-and-a-half years. So Europe is changing and the opportunity for us to lead those changes, and make changes and make changes that will make our relationship with Europe more comfortable I think are absolutely there, so I'm confident we can do that and, as I say, a fresh settlement, and then fresh consent for that settlement.

I think that's the right approach and those who say this is very dangerous, you’re putting at risk the relationship with Europe, you're putting at risk our position with regard to business, I don't agree with that because the fact is that this debate is happening anyway. So we have a choice as politicians. Do you get out there, lead that debate, make the changes that will be right for Britain and I would argue, right for Europe, and then give people a choice about that, or do you kind of stick your head in the sand and hope the whole debate is going to go away? It isn't going to go away.

There are two reasons for that. One is what's happened in terms of the single currency, which I've explained. And frankly the second reason is that the British public feel increasingly fed up that they've been left out of this debate. You know, they've been promised by both frankly governments and oppositions opportunities to vote in referenda or whatever, and then those opportunities have been taken away from them. I think the public are increasingly fed up with that, so we need both to take advantage of the change that's happening anyway in Europe and then also make sure the British public are properly and fully consulted.

JH: You're striking a slightly different note from that which allegedly – you can confirm or deny it - you've struck in the past, at least in private, and that is that we'd be mad to leave Europe, that's what the, er …

DC: Don't, don't believe everything you read in the newspaper …

JH: So that's not true, you've never said that … ? [interruption] Hang on, let's be clear about that. Did you or did you not ever say we'd be mad to leave Europe?

DC: I don't think its in our interests to leave the European Union.

JH: Right, we'd be mad to leave it …

DC: Look, I choose my words carefully. I don't, look … If you're saying to me would Britain sort of collapse if we left the European Union, no, of course not. You could choose a different path. The question is, what's in our national interests. And I've always been very clear. Its in our national interests as a trading nation to be in the Single Market but not like Norway – just accept all the rules of the Single Market, pay for the privilege of being part of it and, as it were, be governed by fax rule …

JH: Its hard to see another alternative to that really …

DC: Well let's look at our relationship now. We're not in the single currency and yet we're full members of the European Union. We're not in the Schengen no-borders agreement, which others are members of … [interruption] so the idea that everyone in Europe has to do everything at the same speed and the same way I think is wrong …

JH: But you’re now saying that there are things going on of which we do not approve, even though we had notionally signed up to them. If they will not change things the way we want them to change, we will leave the club. That's effectively what you're saying, isn't it?

DC: I don't put it like that … [interruption] What I think you're ignoring John is that Europe is changing. The single currency, because in order to have a working single currency you need elements of a banking union and a fiscal union, you need to make changes, and because not everyone in Europe is going to join the single currency and we certainly are not, Europe needs change. And as it needs change we can take advantage of that in terms of leading the debate ourselves, and I think we'll have allies on some of the things that we propose. The idea that powers should be able to flow backwards to nations as well as forwards to Brussels. Other leaders in Europe have been making that argument as well.

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