LONDON: Prime Minister David Cameron says the European Union must agree to “irreversible changes” that would redefine Britain’s relationship with Brussels — and limit freedom of movement by allowing the U.K. to restrict benefits for migrants from other member states.
Britain will hold a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether to leave the 28-nation EU. Cameron says he wants to stay in, provided he can secure greater autonomy for the U.K.
Cameron outlined his demands Tuesday in speech in London and a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk.
He told an audience at the Chatham House think-tank that Britain wants change in four areas, including protection for countries such as Britain that don’t use the euro single currency, less red tape and greater power for national parliaments to opt out of rules made by the Brussels-based EU.
“We are a proud, independent nation. We intend to stay that way,” Cameron said, stressing that Britain wanted a “clear, legally binding and irreversible” exemption from the EU’s commitment to an ever-closer union.
Most contentiously, Cameron said Britain wants to “tackle abuses of the right to free movement, and enable us to control migration from the European Union.” He said Britain wants to bar EU migrants from receiving tax credits and other benefits paid to working people during their first four years in Britain.
That is likely to be a tough sell with some EU leaders, who see free movement of labor, as well as of goods, as a cornerstone of the bloc.
“We don’t want to destroy that principle,” Cameron said. “But freedom of movement has never been an unqualified right.”
Cameron said getting all 27 other member states to agree to Britain’s demands would be tough, but not “Mission Impossible.”