Britain will vote to leave the EU unless European leaders agree to a “substantial package of reform” demanded by David Cameron, the foreign secretary has warned.
As the prime minister embarked on a two-day tour of four European capitals to lobby EU leaders, Philip Hammond indicated that No 10 would like to keep open the option of a referendum next year when he suggested that negotiations could be concluded by the end of winter.
Hammond’s remarks suggest a “substantive” referendum campaign could be launched in the spring of 2016 before a vote in the summer or autumn of that year. He said the referendum could be held next year as he confirmed that a parliamentary bill authorising it will make clear that the vote must be held by 31 December 2017. The bill is to be published on Thursday.
In regards negotiations with Europe, Hammond said ministers had been advised by government law officers that they will need treaty change for the prime minister’s plans to bar EU migrants from claiming out of work benefits and to prevent them from claiming in-work benefits for four years. “That is the best legal advice that we are receiving,” he said.
The foreign secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Cameron, who is visiting The Hague, Paris, Warsaw and Berlin, will make clear that British voters will decide to leave the EU unless most of his demands are met.
The prime minister is planning to demand change in four broad areas. He wants to:
– Bar unemployed EU migrants from claiming benefits and force EU migrants in work to wait four years before claiming in-work benefits. This will be resisted in Warsaw
– Hand the UK an optout from the “ever closer union” declaration
– Ensure that EU member states outside the eurozone, such as the UK, could not have changes to the rules of the single market imposed on them by eurozone countries
– Give national parliaments the right to club together to block new legislative proposals.
Hammond said he expected some of Britain’s 27 EU partners to adopt hardline tactics but suggested that they would eventually work towards a deal, but he added: “We we are very confident that over the course of the summer and perhaps onwards through the winter we will be able to negotiate a substantial package of reform, which will address the concerns that the British people have and which the prime minister has articulated.”