Adding to similar comments made by the Governor of the Bank of England earlier this week, newly-reappointed Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the Financial Times he wants to see a renegotiated deal with the EU “as fast as possible” in order to hold a referendum on membership earlier than 2017.
Although Hammond self-identifies as a Eurosceptic who would contemplate leaving an unreformed EU, raising the possibility of a vote as early as 2016 in this way sets him apart from campaign groups such as Business for Britain and Better Off Out which have both warned against risking a positive outcome for the UK by rushing the process of negotiation.
Prime Minister David Cameron will present his government’s wish-list – to be negotiated by him, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and the Foreign Secretary – at an EU leaders’ summit in June.
Hammond made clear that changes to existing EU treaties, something that has caused concern from France and Germany, is not necessarily the outcome sought by the UK. One proposal is that EU leaders issue a decision with binding force under international law that effectively post-dates treaty change. Avoiding lengthy treaty amendment processes which run the risk of triggering referendums in other member states would also fit into an accelerated renegotiation process.
Asked about relations with the EU following a renegotiated deal and a ‘yes’ vote, Hammond said he would like the UK to become a “wholehearted participant” in an EU with which the British people are “relaxed and comfortable.”
He concluded: “That is how I want this process to end up: a good package of reforms; a ‘yes’ vote; and a step change in the way the relationship works, with Britain being really engaged and a loud voice in the union.”