Cameron pledges EU changes but leaves exit on the table

Posted on 23 Jan 2013 by Tim Brown

Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to re-negotiate the terms under which the UK is involved with the European Union but stipulated that following those arrangements, the British people would decide on whether to maintain membership in the EU.

“I never want us to pull up the drawbridge and retreat from the world,” said Mr Cameron in his long-awaited speech on the UK’s future involvement with the European Union. “I am not a British isolationist,” he said.

While Cameron’s approach was generally welcomed by industry, his offer of a 2017 referendum on whether or not to exit the EU was a cause for concern.

The Prime Minister set out five principles for his “vision for a new European Union”: competitiveness; flexibility; re-allocating power to member states; democratic accountability; and fairness.

Manufacturers including Mark Edmonds, managing director of wire joiners and tensioners maker Gripple, said being a member of the EU was “vital for trading” due to the majority of the company’s business being conducted in Europe. He did concede that changes were necessary. Drawing parallels to the US political system which empowers smaller arms of government to make decisions, Edmonds said he fully supported more autonomy for member states.

“I am a fan of de-centralisation as far as possible. The further you get away from the arena, the less relevant and less tailored the regulation is likely to be and you end up with a one size fits all which I think has proven not to be terribly helpful. The EU has become very large and bureaucratic and I think we are right to stimulate the debate about how far the bureaucracy should go.”

However, describing himself as a “passionate advocate of the EU”, Edmonds said he did not support yes/no referendum. “Exiting the EU would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he said.

Commenting on today’s speech by the Prime Minister, Terry Scuoler, chief executive of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation said that being a member of the EU “was in the interests of the UK and business”. Describing the option of leaving the EU as a risk, Scuoler said the UK “must work better with Europe to make Europe work better for Britain”.

European leaders reacted harshly to Cameron’s suggestion that UK wished to re-negotiate its involvement. According to the FT, France and Germany have told the British Prime Minister David Cameron that the European Union could not be treated “à la carte”.

Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister, said “cherry picking was not an option”, while Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister, said “if you join a football club, you can’t say you want to play rugby”.