David Cameron speech: UK and the EU
- 23 January 2013
- From the section UK Politics
David Cameron has delivered his long-awaited speech on the UK's relations with the EU. Why is the speech so significant?
What has happened?
Prime Minister David Cameron has delivered a speech (full text) setting out his views on the UK's future in the European Union. The speech has been months in the planning.
Why the big deal about the speech?
Mr Cameron had been facing mounting pressure from within the Eurosceptic ranks of his own Conservative Party, and the UK Independence Party, who are unhappy with the current relationship between the UK and the European Union. There have been calls for a referendum to be held, and his own MPs want to see action on the Conservative election pledge to "bring back" powers to Westminster from Brussels. For months now, the promise has been that these questions will all be answered in a big speech.
So what did Cameron say?
Mr Cameron said he plans to renegotiate parts of the UK's relations with Europe and put that changed membership package to the British people in an in-out referendum after the next general election, by the end of 2017. That, obviously, also depends on the Conservatives winning a majority in 2015. To see more of what he said, here are selection of key extracts from the speech.
What sorts of powers does the UK want back?
The prime minister did not spell this out in his speech, but there is a cross-government audit currently under way looking at where the EU has powers over life in the UK. The idea is that each one will then be examined to see whether it is necessary or whether the power could be "brought back" to the UK. Areas it might include are the Working Time Directive, which imposes employment rules such as limiting the working week and giving EU workers a minimum number of holidays each year. The UK is also keen on opt-outs from policing and criminal justice measures. The 2010 Conservative manifesto said: "We will work to bring back key powers over legal rights, criminal justice and social and employment legislation to the UK."
Why does Cameron think he can agree changes with EU leaders?
The recent eurozone crisis has led those countries using the single currency to believe that they need closer integration in future - a move which will further increase the gap between the euro and non-euro EU members. Mr Cameron says there needs to be a new EU treaty to facilitate the eurozone integration, so, as part of negotiations, there is a chance to redefine the membership rules for countries like the UK.
So does this all mean that the UK's going to leave the EU?
David Cameron said that he opposed the idea of the UK leaving the EU (the UK joined when it was the European Economic Community, in 1973). However he did say during a recent BBC radio interview: "Would Britain collapse if we left the European Union? No, of course not. You could choose a different path. The question is, what is in our national interest? I've always been very clear it's in our national interest as a trading nation to be in the single market."
What has been the reaction in the UK?
Eurosceptics seem pretty happy with the speech - it has been very warmly welcomed by Conservative MPs. Although the UK Independence Party said it wanted a referendum sooner, party leader Nigel Farage called the PM's promise of an in/out referendum his party's greatest achievement.
Pro-Europeans have been unhappy with the speech - Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg warned that proposing a referendum at a future date causes uncertainty and will have a "chilling effect" on jobs and growth. Ex-European Commissioner and Labour cabinet minister Lord Mandelson called it "game, set and match" to the hardliners in Mr Cameron's party.
The BBC has compiled a selection of political and industry responses to the speech. Here is a round-up of newspaper commentators' verdicts.
What about the reaction around Europe?
The BBC's Steve Evans in Berlin said opinion was hardening in Germany and France, with many politicians believing that those opposed to further European integration would be better off "leaving gracefully". Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister, said "cherry picking is not an option". French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said: "We want the British to be able to bring all their positive characteristics to Europe... but you can't do Europe a la carte. I'll take an example which our British friends will understand. Let's imagine Europe is a football club and you join, but once you're in it you can't say, 'Let's play rugby'." Read more EU reaction.
What about the reaction from business?
A succession of business leaders have spoken up in favour of UK membership of the EU and the US and a range of European politicians have also warned of negative results if the UK left the EU. Some business leaders, such as IG Group founder Stuart Wheeler and Next boss Lord Wolfson, have also called for changes in the UK's relationship with the EU. The director general of the employers' group the CBI, John Cridland, said "closer union of the eurozone is not for us" but Mr Cameron "rightly recognises the benefits of retaining membership of what must be a reformed EU".
Where can I get more detail on the speech?
If you click on the link below you can read the whole text, with key bits picked out and analysed by BBC experts