When I announced an In/Out EU Referendum in 2013 I laid out my vision for a fundamentally reformed European Union which would be better equipped to face a competitive world beset with economic and security problems. I identified three key challenges that needed to be addressed, namely, problems with the eurozone, competitiveness and the role of national governments including a recognition of the importance of national sovereignty. In my speech I identified 5 principles that supported my vision. First, there should be improvements to European competitiveness by reforming the European Commission to provide a more nimble organisation more focussed on global free trade. Second, the EU needed to adopt a more flexible approach with less emphasis on one-size-fits-all political solutions, and safeguards that recognised national interests and diverse opinion. Third, I wanted power to flow back to the member states, and, fourthly, a greater role for national parliaments to improve democratic accountability in the absence of a European demos. Finally, I wanted to see a fair settlement that balanced the interests of those inside the Eurozone against those outside. My speech was positive and delivered in the spirit of a committed member of the European Union who could see a better way.
Since the General Election of 2015 you will be aware that I have visited most EU capitals and campaigned tirelessly for the kind of changes that I believe are necessary to produce a European Union best equipped for the 21st Century and to secure the UK’s position within it. It is important that people realise that most effective international diplomacy is conducted in private and outside of the glare of the kind of publicity that we have seen in Brussels this week. Proper diplomacy is quiet work, and it relies on relationships that in some cases were forged and nurtured over hundreds of years. I have to tell you that over the many private meetings that I have held in the last 10 months it has become very apparent to me that there is no collective will for the kind of changes that I outlined in my Bloomberg vision set out in 2013. It seems that the UK sees our place in the world differently to others and that this difference can not now be resolved. We have therefore truly arrived at a fork in the road.
The deal that has been agreed in Brussels this week therefore marks the high water of institutional change that other EU countries are prepared to accept. I expect that most of you would agree that it falls very far short of my 2013 vision of fundamental EU reform, and it highlights that the direction that other EU countries wish to follow is based on closer political union and centralisation something that the United Kingdom finds hard to accept. Some of you may well ask, why did you battle so hard for the deal if it was not something that fulfilled your expectations? Well, the reason is that I wanted to negotiate the very best terms that could be achieved and then let the British people decide if it was enough. Whatever international deal is presented to the people, it is the duty of a Prime Minister to ensure that it was the very best that could be achieved on behalf of his nation. If you hold the deal to be insufficient then I would much prefer that it was because it represents a difference of international opinion rather than because your Prime Minister didn’t try hard enough.
To my mind, the reasons for either remaining in or leaving the EU are now finely balanced. It is the most important strategic decision that we will make as a country since the Second World War and therefore it is right that the British people conduct a serious and mature debate on the matter before making their decision. Whilst the deal may seem poor, it needs to be viewed in the context of all the other reasons for either remaining or leaving this organisation. A poor deal alone may be insufficient reason to leave as there are a myriad other factors that also need to be considered. For example, there can be no argument that in some situations it is better and stronger to act as a group of like-minded countries. But on the other hand, does common action require a political union that draws sovereign power away from the people in individual countries and reduce the value of their vote?
I do not intend to set out all the factors that need to be considered as this will be played out in detail during the coming months before the referendum which I now announce will take place at the earliest opportunity on 23rd June. However, I do wish to make some remarks on the conduct of the forthcoming campaigns. First, it is right that such an important matter for the country is debated in a mature and objective manner. In this regard, I hope that both campaigns will set aside the usual political point scoring and negative campaigning and set out their cases objectively and factually. This is not only important to achieve a result based on proper democratic foundations but also because it will be played out in the full scrutiny of the the rest of the international community. One of my priorities has been to minimise the diplomatic fallout resulting from this referendum and the manner in which we conduct our national debate will reflect on us internationality.
It is also for this reason that I have decided to adopt a neutral role in the debate. Myself as the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor will play no part in the debate other than to facilitate it. There is important diplomatic business to conduct over the coming months including the economic recovery, the refugee crisis, Syria, Iraq and Libya. This will require close contact with many countries that will be affected by our vote in June, and it would be untenable for us to attend such meetings if we had adopted any other position than a neutral one in the matter of the EU referendum. Aside from these three senior government politicians, the rest of the cabinet is released from cabinet collective responsibility with immediate affect to campaign as they see fit. I have placed some constraints on ministers but these are minor and intended to ensure that a proper amount of time is spent on other ministerial duties. I am determined that whilst the debate may rage, the government will not be sidetracked and will continue to deliver on the promises made in our manifesto. It is also important that Britain now holds the fullest and most meaningful of debates and with this in mind it is important that elected politicians play a full role in examining the issues before the people finally decide.
This country has played a huge role in international affairs over the course of our long and proud history. The direction in we choose to go will not only determine our own future but will also set a model for the rest of the world who will watch with great interest and in some cases with a degree of fear. Closer to home, it is important also to recognise that there will be no second referendum on the matter. Our decision in June will set our course for the foreseeable future and therefore it will also be important that we come together as a country to unite around the collective will of the people once a decision is made. It is a big moment for us but I am confident that the British people will conduct their deliberations carefully and soberly before deciding wisely.