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UK must lance EU boil - Hammond

Published 01/06/2015

Norway's foreign minister said the UK is an 'important voice' for economic growth and cutting red tape within the EU
Norway's foreign minister said the UK is an 'important voice' for economic growth and cutting red tape within the EU

Britain must step up its role in the European Union if it secures a successful renegotiation package and shape the bloc into an "image that we find attractive", Philip Hammond has said.

The Foreign Secretary said it was time to "lance this boil" over Europe following a "real thinning" in the democratic legitimacy of the UK's relationship with Brussels.

But the Government will be "selling hard" the advantages of remaining a member if a "decent" deal is struck ahead of the in/out referendum and Britain should then use its status as a key economic powerhouse to transform the union.

Speaking at a foreign affairs conference at Chatham House, in London, Mr Hammond said: "As for the EU, we have to lance this boil. There is a real thinning of democratic legitimacy, of democratic consent for Britain's membership of the EU and we have to deal with this issue.

"We have to get the best deal we can from renegotiation with our partners in Europe and then we have to put it to the British people, and the Prime Minister has been very clear, we are not neutral observers in this.

"If we can get a decent package, we will be selling hard the advantages not just of staying in the EU but of stepping up.

"The Brits have spent far too long, in my view, of thinking of the EU as something that is done to them by people over there who are big and powerful and we are really insignificant. We are the second biggest economy in the EU. On all the current trends, we are set to become the biggest economy in the EU during the 2030s.

"We should be thinking of the EU as an organisation that we can shape in an image that we find attractive, outward looking, focused on global engagement, doing the things that Europe needs to do to be successful in the future, and that's the prize here, to get the British people thinking positively about our engagement in Europe again."

It comes after European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker suggested David Cameron wants to use the referendum to "dock" the UK permanently into the 28-nation bloc

Mr Juncker told a German newspaper that the question of Brexit - British exit from the EU - "does not arise", as this is not what the UK is seeking.

Meanwhile, Norbert Roettgen, a senior member of German chancellor Angela Merkel's party and chairman of the Bundestag's foreign affairs committee, said it was "not realistic" for the Prime Minister to hope to change the EU's treaties in time for the referendum scheduled by the end of 2017.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage was critical of Mr Juncker's comments. He said: "The British people are fed-up to the back teeth with Eurocrats telling us what we want, what is good for us, how to run our businesses and how we organise our society.

"Now he tells us we do not want to run our own lives. Of course this man, elected from a shortlist of one, with no popular democratic mandate and no means of accountability, wants to maintain the control of the unelected unwanted Eurocrats. Well, he would, wouldn't he?

"Mr Juncker should wind his neck in about what the British people want or do not want. He does not know us. However, as someone who regularly talks with David Cameron, he does seem to have some insight into the Prime Minister's mind."

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