June 2016 has been indicated by the UK Minister for Europe as the first possible date for the referendum on the country’s EU membership, while David Cameron’s call for reforming the Union is being met with more understanding “partly due to the refugee crisis”.
Speaking to foreign correspondents in London, David Lidington said that the UK government is expecting a conversation around the table at the European Council “with the hope of reaching a successful outcome in February.”
As soon as the EU level negotiations have reached such an outcome, the British government would be able to set a referendum date. As Lidington explained, from the moment that the date is announced it will take roughly four months before the referendum takes place.
“So June next year is an option available. It will be the PM’s call at the end of the day. If that’s missed, then probably there is another obvious window from September to November next year. If we are still negotiating at EU level in autumn next year, then the referendum will not be held until 2017,” said Lidington.
Commenting on what he would consider a ‘successful outcome’ of the ongoing discussions on David Cameron’s EU reform proposals, the minister said he envisages the final deal “would involve a European Council set of conclusions or declaration of some kind, a political commitment within which there will be elements that are a matter of secondary legislation that involve perhaps protocols, perhaps a commitment to future treaty changes.
“We accept that in the timescale we have set for ourselves it will not be possible to get a treaty change ratified ahead of our referendum. But we do think that some of what we are proposing is going to need change to European treaties.”
Lidington said that as with all negotiations there is some flexibility from the British side, however he wouldn’t want to exaggerate that, because the PM “quite deliberately” set out proposals that he believes are reasonable.
“The PM’s commitment remains resolutely that he wants to see a set of reforms agreed that will make the EU more competitive, democratic and accountable than it is today, reforms he believes passionately are in the interest of Europe as a whole, but which also help the UK feel more comfortable with its place in the EU. And he wants a substantive reforms package on which he can campaign vigorously for continued British membership of the EU,” noted David Lidington.
He commented that the British government has allies on every policy area on which the Prime Minister has called for reform and admitted that the most difficult and challenging element was always going to be the issue of welfare and migration.
Asked by the Cyprus News Agency to comment on whether the refugee crisis has been making other EU member states more receptive of the UK’s call for reform, Lidington said: “I don’t think an agreement on welfare change will be easy, I think there is a lot of work to be done, but I do find that partly as a result of the refugee crisis there is perhaps an understanding that might have not been present before of why there has been a reaction amongst ordinary people in the UK to the very large levels of migration from both inside and outside the EU that we have seen in recent years.”
Asked about Greece’s and Turkey’s role in the dealing with the refugee crisis, he replied that the UK government would encourage Athens to work with the institutions, particularly Frontex to find a way forward.
As for Turkey, he said that Europe needs to recognise that the country is hosting more than 2.5 million refugees. “We have to ensure that we follow up on promises of help to Turkey in managing the burden that they have,” said the UK Minster for Europe.
He added that the partnership with Turkey should not be simply a transaction on migration, but set on a strategic level, as Turkey presents massive opportunities for Europe. “I think it would be a catastrophic strategic mistake for us to push Turkey off and to class them somehow as part of the Middle East. We should see Turkey as a country that we want to encourage to commit firmly, permanently to the Euroatlantic perspective,” said David Lidington.
ENDS, CYPRUS NEWS AGENCY