The Foreign Secretary has sent a strong message to his European counterparts by saying that Britain “must be prepared to walk away from the EU”.
Philip Hammond, a known Eurosceptic, told The Telegraph that Britain must get “substantial, meaningful reform” from Brussels before the proposed 2017 referendum. Speaking from Ghana, he said the Government is now “prepared to stand up from the table and walk away”.
“We’re in the beginning stages of a negotiation and – first of all, never, never go into any negotiation unless you’re prepared to stand up from the table and walk away,” he said.
And he implied that the success of the discussions could come down to a combination of delicate phrasing and candid negotiating.
“I’d like to be telling my German counterpart honestly, if you draw the line there, I don’t think we’re going to get this past the British public in a referendum – but if you could move your line to there, I think we might,” he said.
The Government is looking to ‘stretch’ the definitions of the existing EU treaties particularly with regard to the free movement of people with Mr Hammond saying that he would avoid using the word ‘quotas’ during talks with European leaders and success is just a question of the language and tone used during the negotiations.
But he acknowledged that full control over immigration and the UK’s borders would not happen while the UK remained a member of the EU.
“If your ambition is that we have total unfettered control of our own borders to do what we like, that isn’t compatible with membership of the European Union, it’s as simple as that. And people who advocate that know jolly well it is not compatible with membership of the European Union. So if that’s what you want, you’re essentially talking about leaving the European Union,” he said.
The Foreign Secretary makes clear that his negotiations can result in Britain having the “ability to avoid the kind of destabilising movements that we’ve seen over the last decade or so”, referring to the huge influx of migration following the Eastward expansion of the Union which the Conservatives voted for.
There is a ‘carrot and stick’ strategy at work in the government over its attitude towards the EU, immigration and the threat of UKIP.
While Mr Hammond was trying to reassure concerned voters, the Prime Minister was wielding a stick in his approach to shoring up Tory support.
Speaking to the BBC in Australia he said that UKIP would treat success in Rochester as “just another notch” and its leader Nigel Farage would celebrate with a “pint in the pub”.
“There is a greater danger of insecurity and instability” in the economy, he said, because another UKIP victory, particularly off the back of their success in Clacton, would decrease the likelihood of an outright Conservative victory in 2015.
And he added that people should vote for candidate Kelly Tolhurst as she was “the only proper local candidate who’s live there and worked there all her life,” implying that the party’s previous top choice Mark Reckless wasn’t, even back in 2010.
“This is pretty pitiful stuff” a spokesman for Mark Reckless said.
“They were more than happy to have Mark Reckless as their candidate until he made the honourable decision to put his own promises to voters ahead of the old politics and party whips.”
“They wouldn’t do this if they were not desperate to save their political skins.”