DAVID Cameron will publish full details of his demands for European Union reform and has promised to “quicken the pace” of negotiations leading to a referendum on UK membership.
The prime minister will set out the changes he is seeking in a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk to be distributed to the other 27 EU leaders in early November.
His decision to accelerate the progress of negotiations makes a referendum in 2016 more likely. Mr Cameron has promised a vote by the end of 2017, but is thought to want to get the vote out of the way by the end of next year, to avoid clashing with elections in France and Germany and the UK’s six-month presidency of the EU. However, Downing Street insisted that the timing would be driven by progress in talks and not by an arbitrary deadline.
Meanwhile, London mayor Boris Johnson ramped up pressure on the Prime Minister to secure significant reform, saying that the downside of an exit from the EU was “not as big as many people think” and added: “If we don’t get the changes we want and we don’t see progress then you have got to be prepared to walk away.”.
Mr Johnson suggested there could be “a new dispensation that involved Britain staying within the single market but being exempted from a lot of the other stuff”.
Mr Cameron’s agreement to provide more details of his ambitions followed signs of mounting impatience in Brussels over his failure to spell out exactly what reforms he is seeking.
As EU leaders gathered for a one-day summit in the Belgian capital, European Parliament president Martin Schulz called for “clarity” from the UK, while Belgium’s PM Charles Michel said “It is time for Mr Cameron to put his cards on the table.”
The Prime Minister announced his initiative shortly after a working lunch with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who on Wednesday told MEPs that technical talks launched in June had not made “huge progress”, adding: “It takes two to tango ... our British friends have to dance.”
Asked whether the move represented a decision that it was time to “dance”, a British official responded: “This isn’t Strictly, it’s a negotiation.”
The letter is expected to flesh out demands Mr Cameron has already set out for changes to welfare rules for migrant workers, the lifting of member states’ commitment to “ever-closer union”, measures to protect non-euro states and improve EU competitiveness and greater powers for national parliaments.
Officials initially indicated that the letter to Mr Tusk may not be made public, sparking anger among eurosceptic MPs.
The chairman of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee Sir Bill Cash said it was “essential that people in this country and in our Parliament know what is being said to other member states on the future of our country”.
When it was announced shortly afterwards that the letter would after all be made available to MPs and the public, Sir Bill said that he was “extremely pleased”.
Mr Cameron insisted the renegotiation process he started after winning the May general election was “going well” and the letter would take it into a new phase involving talks with other member states ahead of a “substantive discussion” at the European Council summit in December.