UK Politics

Europe debate: UK cannot demand 'any price' in negotiations

Man wearing shoes with Union Jack motif in Vienna
Image caption The UK's future in Europe has been the subject of intense debate

The UK will not be able to demand "any price" in negotiations over its future in the European Union, MPs have warned.

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said it was "sceptical" on whether the UK would get special treatment or be able to take back powers unilaterally.

But it said a collective negotiating approach could bring positive results.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he wants to refashion the UK's relationship with the EU and put the outcome to a referendum in 2017.

A referendum, which Labour and the Lib Dems oppose, is dependent on the Conservatives winning a majority at the next election, scheduled for 2015.


The cross-party committee of MPs said Mr Cameron was to be commended for launching an ambitious agenda for EU reform, adding that the eurozone crisis and public dissatisfaction with the EU illustrated that changes were needed.

But the MPs said other EU nations were more likely to support proposals for reform of the organisation as a whole as opposed to special treatment for the UK, in the form of further opt-outs or reclaiming powers.

"The committee is sceptical that other member states would be willing to renegotiate existing EU law so as to allow the UK on its own to reduce its degree of integration, especially where this could be seen as undermining the integrity of the single market," it wrote.

"Other member states appear to want the UK to remain an EU member. However, the government could not successfully demand 'any price' for promising to try to keep the UK in the Union."

The tone adopted by ministers in negotiations would be important to maintaining influence, the MPs claimed.

The committee did not specifically consider the pros and cons of remaining in the EU or Mr Cameron's referendum pledge.

However, it notes that if the UK were to leave the EU, it would not be "appropriate" to maintain a relationship with the EU similar to that enjoyed by Norway or Switzerland.

If the UK wanted to continue enjoying the benefits of the single market, the committee said it should either stay within the EU or seek radical change to give "decision-making rights" to all participating states.

'Collective process'

While closer integration in the eurozone did provide potential risks to the UK, the committee said agreements on banking supervision reached last year showed what the UK could achieve through "close and constructive engagement".

And since the eurozone was not homogenous and its members took different views on different issues, it said closer integration did not not "necessarily render the UK's position in the EU impossible or worthless".

Richard Ottaway, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said it was premature to say at this stage whether the prime minister would be able to negotiate a "new settlement" for the UK in Europe.

"Reform and renegotiation in the EU takes time and is often complex and difficult," he said.

"It is important for everyone in the UK to understand that we are involved in a collective process with 26 other countries, whether we are trying to reform a single piece of EU legislation or leave the EU.

"In many respects, we are nearer the start of a process than the end... We are clear that the government's best overall policy is to remain constructive, engaged and thinking in terms of the EU as a whole."

In a speech on Monday, Mr Cameron said the UK should be at the "top table" of international institutions, including the EU.

But the UK Independence Party said leaving the EU would increase, not reduce, the UK's influence on the world stage.