On Tuesday 20th January, I asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Philip Hammond MP, several questions relating to our membership of the European Union and confirmation of the timing of an EU Referendum. This is an issue I know that many of my constituents are concerned about and many of you will be aware that last year I organised a constituency-wide EU referendum ballot. In the ballot, over 80% voted that they would vote to leave the EU. I share your concern and I am committed to representing this in Parliament.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to renegotiating our position in the EU as I fear to hold a referendum now would produce a result based on an unacceptable situation without allowing for steps to be made to improve the situation. However, I know many of you are concerned about what progress has been made on this front, so I called on the Foreign Secretary to confirm that reform is still being sought and that reform of freedom of movement – something we all want to see is achievable. I welcome his confirmation that reform continues to be sought and his indication that he does not endorse Mr Juncker’s recent comments regarding reform of freedom of movement.
I have voted in favour of an EU referendum many times during my time as your MP, and I will continue to call for one in the future. I also took the opportunity to ask the Foreign Secretary to confirm that a referendum will be held before the end of 2017 if we are still in Government and I welcome his confirmation that this remains the case. I am pleased that, if we are re-elected in May the Government has committed to holding a referendum on our membership before 2017.
You can see the full text of my questions below:
Nigel Mills MP: What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on reforming the EU to make it more competitive and accountable.
Philip Hammond MP (The 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.
Nigel Mills MP: 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?
Philip Hammond MP (The 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.
Nigel Mills MP: I am grateful for the earlier confirmation about the EU referendum if the Prime Minister remains the Prime Minister. Is there now an update on what the date of that referendum might be? Will it be earlier than 2017?
Philip Hammond MP (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): The Government’s position is that we will negotiate a reform package in the European Union—that will take some time—and then present it to the British people before the end of 2017 for their endorsement or otherwise. The British people will have the last say, unlike under the position of the Labour party, which is apparently that the European Union is perfect. Let us remember that the Leader of the Opposition said on the BBC that, in his opinion, Brussels does not have too much power, and therefore he does not have a European Union reform policy.