EU Reform

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 20 January 2015.

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Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley 11:30, 20 January 2015

What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on reforming the EU to make it more competitive and accountable.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I have already visited 18 member states to discuss EU reform with my counterparts—most recently from Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia last week. Leaders across Europe agree that the EU needs to change. We are setting out the case for Britain’s view of the reforms required to make the EU fit for purpose in the 21st century. We have already made some progress: the June European Council agreed that EU reform was necessary and that the UK’s concerns should be addressed.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

Mr Juncker yesterday appeared to rule out reform of freedom of movement as a way of reinvigorating our loveless marriage with the EU. Is there more hope from my right hon. Friend’s discussions with his counterparts that real reform of that can be achieved?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As the Prime Minister has set out on more than one occasion, we have increasing agreement across the European Union that we need to address abuse of free movement. Free movement to work is one of the principles of the European Union; free movement to freeload is not one of the principles of the European Union. Britain is not the only country affected by this problem and not the only country determined to address it.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

We will do this every day, if it gets me called, Mr Speaker.

Will the Foreign Secretary join me in welcoming the decision taken 30 minutes ago by the EU to raise the ban on the import of Alphonso mangoes from India? Does he agree that a lesson should be learned by the EU that before it makes such decisions, there should be proper consultation and full transparency?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Yes, I am absolutely clear that there should be full transparency on all issues concerning mangoes, and I am delighted to see the greatest possible level of free trade in the international market for mangoes.

Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon Conservative, Newbury

That is a difficult one to follow. I have a little experience in EU negotiations, so may I encourage my right hon. Friend not to do as some suggest, which is to set out clearly precisely what our red lines might be in the negotiations? That would make the negotiations 10 times more difficult.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My hon. Friend is right. This will be a negotiation. In the present pre-negotiation phase, we are quite properly setting out our broad agenda. Understanding our partners’ concerns, where their agendas coincide with ours and where their red lines are is all perfectly legitimate. It is clear already that some of our partners are beginning to line up for a negotiation. Giving away our hand at this stage would be foolish.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

My constituents are extremely concerned about the payment of child benefit for children living not in this country, but in other European countries. Did the Foreign Secretary make any progress with Chancellor Merkel recently on this, or is it still the Government’s view, as expressed by the Prime Minister in May, that it would be impossible to stop this? Is that why the Government have resisted publishing an accurate estimate of the cost?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

There are accurate estimates in the public domain of the amounts of child benefits paid overseas. I have seen them regularly. When I was shadow Chief Secretary in opposition, I remember briefing them to the media regularly, so those data are published. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Conservative party intends, if re-elected, to proceed down a route that will include ending the payment of child benefits in respect of children not resident in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

The Prime Minister has made it clear that democratic accountability and flexibility must be the pillars of any forward-looking European Union that this country would be willing to remain a member of. Following the Foreign Secretary’s discussions with senior EU officials, does he believe that that view is shared across the European Union?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I do. I think European politicians are beginning to get the message after successive elections to the European Parliament in which the percentage of participation has fallen and fallen again. Politicians across the European Union understand that something has to be done to reconnect the EU with the people who pay for it and the people whom it is meant to represent. In our case, we believe that the best way of doing that would be to give a greater role to our national Parliament in overseeing the operation of the European Union.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

What progress has the Secretary of State made in his discussions on furthering the single market so that Britain can have greater access to trade and export opportunities for businesses based here? While he has been in those discussions, has he also made any assessment of the effect on the UK economy of being outside the single market, which is where we would be if we withdrew from the EU—an option that he has said he might favour?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Clearly, being inside the single market is of great and significant benefit to the UK economy. We want reform of the European Union that satisfies the requirements of the British people so that Britain can remain inside the single market and inside the EU. We want a European Union that is fit for the 21st century, rather than one that looks as though it was designed for the last one. And yes, we have made significant progress in our discussions on completing the single market, including the digital single market, the energy single market and, most importantly for Britain, the single market for services.