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I assess that mainstream opinion in the UK is that the EU is not currently delivering for Britain. We need to fix that problem, and only the Conservatives have a clear plan to do so. We will negotiate a new settlement with our EU neighbours, and one that works for Britain. We will then put that new settlement to the British people in an in/out referendum before the end of 2017. Only a Conservative Government will make that commitment. Labour and the Liberal Democrats do not want change, and UKIP cannot deliver it.
The Conservative party is the only sane and significant party to guarantee, following a renegotiation, an in/out referendum on our membership of the EU. How many countries has the Foreign Secretary visited to discuss that renegotiation, what levels of engagement has he had, and is there a positive desire for change in other states that matches ours?
I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s three questions. The Foreign Secretary is a specialist in providing a pithy answer on a postcard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for that vote of confidence.
I have currently visited 23 of our partners in the European Union. In a nutshell, there is a very strong view that all member states want Britain to remain in the EU, an understanding that that can happen only if there is significant change in the EU, and a clear willingness to engage with us, particularly on our demands for improved competitiveness in the EU, which all member states want.
The Conservative manifesto at the last general election states:
“European countries need to work together to boost global economic growth, fight global poverty, and combat global climate change. The European Union has a crucial part to play…A Conservative government will play an active and energetic role in the European Union to advance these causes.”
Will that be the Conservative party’s policy in the next Parliament?
That is exactly what we are doing. The hon. Gentleman seems to subscribe to the view of the world in which Britain sits isolated on the edge. We are a major player in Europe. We have the second largest economy in Europe. We are leading the way in so many areas within the European Union. We have to seize this opportunity to shape the European Union in a way that works for Britain. It went off the rails somewhere over the past 20 years, and we must take this opportunity of reform and renegotiation to get it back on the rails. Crucially, we must then let the British people have the final say on whether the package we have negotiated is good enough or not.
Like you, Mr Speaker, I have complete confidence in the Foreign Secretary. I am sure he has sensed not only that there is increased public demand for renegotiation, but that there is absolutely no movement in public demand for that referendum. Is that his assessment, and will he commit to a referendum prior to the end of 2017?
I reiterate the commitment that the Prime Minister has already made that there will be a referendum by the end of 2017 if there is a Conservative Government. There is virtually no movement in polling evidence in the demand for a referendum. I will say something else to my hon. Friend: by creating the referendum we have—I will use the phrase again—lit a fire under our partners in Europe. They now know that they have to deliver change that is substantive and meaningful; not some backroom political deal, but something that will satisfy the British people in a referendum. That is what is driving the debate.
It is clear that the European Union needs to reform to create more growth, more jobs and more competitiveness, so what is the Minister’s reaction to the warning issued this morning from the executive vice-president of Ford, Mr Jim Farley, who said, on the prospects of “Brexit”,
“We really hope that doesn’t happen and we believe that the UK being part of the EU is critical for business”?
Why does the Conservative party call for the march of the makers in one breath, yet pursue a policy that poses a direct threat to manufacturing jobs, manufacturing investment and trade? Is it that the Foreign Secretary does not see the contradiction, or is it instead a complete and utter absence of leadership when it comes to the European Union?
It is that we need to resolve this issue. Of course, most people in this country recognise the value of the single market to Britain’s economy, but that comes at a price and it is a price we pay in loss of sovereignty and loss of control over many of our own affairs, including some that we do not need to lose control of. The debate will be on the correct balance between what is done at national level and what is done at European level, on the accountability of the European Union institutions to the people of the European Union, and on the European Union’s ability to drive economic growth across all our economies. That is what people in this country want resolved, and by resolving it we will create a more certain climate for business in the future.
The Foreign Secretary has kindly shared with us that he has spoken to 23 other member states and that they all support the United Kingdom’s remaining in the European Union. Can he tell us whether he supports Britain remaining in the European Union? Does he understand the damage that his policy is doing to British business and British interests in order to maintain a temporary peace in his party?
What would cause continuing damage to British industry is not resolving this issue once and for all. The only way to do that is to have a frank and open discussion about the problems in the European Union, to renegotiate the package and to put it to the British people—and then we have settled it for a generation.