UK told ‘a la carte’ relations off menu as Cameron pledges vote on staying in EU
The UK has been warned it cannot have an “a la carte” relationship with the European Union after its prime minister David Cameron confirmed he would seek to renegotiate the UK’s membership and pledged to hold an “in/out” referendum if re-elected to government.
Mr Cameron’s long-awaited speech on Britain’s relationship with the EU, which was delivered in London yesterday, drew a cool response.
Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said “cherry picking was not an option”, while his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, said the UK wanted to join a soccer team and get them to play rugby.
More importantly, however, German chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany was “prepared to talk” to London, saying: “Germany, and I personally, want Britain to be an important part and an active member of the EU.”
In a bid to prevent surprises, Mr Cameron phoned Taoiseach Enda Kenny and some other EU leaders on Tuesday afternoon to brief them on the contents of his speech, sources have told The Irish Times.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said Mr Cameron’s speech posed “significant strategic questions for the EU itself, Britain and us as a country”, but he cautioned against “knee-jerk” reactions.
“Irrespective of where the debate goes in Britain, Ireland’s relationship with Britain remains strong ... Ireland will remain at the heart of Europe and close to Britain,” he told the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee.
Mr Cameron sought to portray his initiative as an exercise of repatriating power from Brussels and promoting democracy at home.
“We will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice: to stay
in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether. It will be an in/out referendum,” said Mr Cameron, who went further in his language than even some Eurosceptic Conservatives had hoped.
Significantly, he insisted that his strategy would have to be accepted by any coalition partner the Conservatives might need after the election to stay in power: “If I’m prime minister, this will happen,” he said.
Five years of doubt
Mr Cameron will today hear first-hand reaction from influential global political and business figures – some of whom believe he has created five years of doubt about the UK’s EU membership – when he attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Saying that an “a la carte” EU membership was not possible, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said: “[The UK] are the ones who are largely responsible for the delays in Europe and also the ones pointing their fingers at Europe.”
However, the European Commission was deliberately neutral, saying only: “It is for the British government and the British people to set out what they feel is the best approach to the UK’s place within the EU.”
Mr Cameron’s partner in government, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, said that Mr Cameron had created “years and years of uncertainty” that would affect the UK’s ability to attract foreign investors.
The biggest challenge facing the UK was economic, not EU membership, said Mr Clegg: “Now that job is made all the harder if we have years of grinding uncertainty because of an ill-defined, protracted renegotiation of Britain’s status within the EU.”