Below is the text of the speech made by David Lidington, the Minister for Europe, in the House of Commons on 2 February 2016.
At about 11.35 this morning, the President of the European Council, Mr Donald Tusk, published a set of draft texts about the United Kingdom’s renegotiation. He has now sent those to all European Union Governments for them to consider ahead of the February European Council. This is a complex and detailed set of documents, which right hon. and hon. Members will, understandably, wish to read and study in detail. With that in mind, and subject to your agreement, Mr Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will offer an oral statement tomorrow, following Prime Minister’s questions, to allow Members of the House to question him, having first had a chance to digest the detail of the papers that have been issued within the last hour.
The Government have been clear that the European Union needs to be reformed if it is to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The British people have very reasonable concerns about the UK’s membership of the European Union, and the Prime Minister is determined to address those. He believes that the reforms that Britain is seeking will benefit not just Britain, but the European Union as a whole. Therefore, our approach in Government has been one of reform, renegotiation and then a referendum. We are working together with other countries to discuss and agree reforms, many of which will benefit the entire European Union, before holding a referendum to ensure that the British people have the final and decisive say about our membership.
The House will recall that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement after the December meeting of the European Council. At that meeting, leaders agreed to work together to find mutually satisfactory solutions in all the four areas at the European Council meeting on 18 and 19 February. My right hon. Friend’s meetings in Brussels on 29 January, and his dinner with President Tusk on 31 January, were steps in that negotiation process.
We are in the middle of a live negotiation and are now entering a particularly crucial phase. The Government have been clear throughout that they cannot provide a running commentary on the renegotiations. However, I am able to say that much progress has been made in recent days, and it appears that a deal is within sight. The publication of the texts by President Tusk this morning is another step in that process, but I would stress to the House that there is still a lot of work to be done.
If the texts tabled today are agreed by all member states, they will deliver significant reforms in each of the four areas of greatest concern to the British people: economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty and immigration. On sovereignty, the texts show significant advances towards securing a United Kingdom carve-out from ever closer union.
On the relations between euro “ins” and “outs”, the documents offer steps towards significant safeguards for countries outside the eurozone as euro members integrate further. On competitiveness, we are seeing a greater commitment by the entire Union to completing the single market for trade and cutting job-destroying regulations on business.
On free movement, there are important ideas in President Tusk’s drafts on reducing the pull factor of our welfare system and on action to address the abuse of freedom of movement of persons.
We believe that real progress has been made, but I would stress that there is more work still to be done and more detail to be nailed down before we are able to say that a satisfactory deal has been secured.