European Council June 2015: David Cameron's speech

Transcript of press conference with Prime Minister, David Cameron at the European Council, 26 June 2015.

Read 'Europäischer Rat Juni 2015: Rede von David Cameron'

Before I start, let me comment briefly on the appalling events that have taken place in France and Tunisia. Our hearts all go out to the victims of these appalling terrorist acts. I spoke to President Hollande at the European Council and offered my sympathy and our solidarity with the French people at this time. I hope to speak later with the Tunisian government and again offer our sympathies and condolences, and our solidarity in fighting this evil of terrorism.

This is a threat that faces all of us. These events have taken place today in Tunisia and in France, but they can happen anywhere. We all face this threat. There’ll be a ministerially-chaired COBR meeting, the government’s emergency committee, later on this afternoon to make sure we’re doing everything we can to cooperate and coordinate with other countries and any information that we have that we share with them in fighting this threat.

We’ve got to do all we can to help. That means cooperating on counter-terrorism, building our capacity on counter-terrorism, it means dealing with the threat at source, whether that is ISIL in Syria and Iraq or whether it is other extremist groups around the world, and we also have to deal – perhaps more important than anything, is with this poisonous radical narrative that is turning so many young minds, and we have to combat it with everything that we have. The people who do these things, they sometimes claim they do it in the name of Islam. They don’t. Islam is a religion of peace. They do it in the name of a twisted and perverted ideology that we have to confront with everything that we have, and we must stop the poisoning of these young minds in our country, in other European countries and around the world.

I had three clear objectives for this summit: to ensure that there’s a comprehensive approach to the migration crisis; to push for faster progress on the Digital Single Market, which is so important for businesses and consumers back at home; but most importantly, to get the UK renegotiation underway, and I want to say a word about each.

First on migration, the wave of migrants crossing the Mediterranean is not just a problem for countries on the shore of the Mediterranean; it is an issue that affects us all. Many of those trying to cross the Channel from Calais arrived into Europe across the Mediterranean. So we need to work together in Europe on a comprehensive plan that will tackle the root causes of this issue and stem the flow.

Now Britain has already played a leading role, we’re saving lives with HMS Bulwark and our other Border Force cutters, rescuing over 4,000 people in the Mediterranean. We’re gathering intelligence to disrupt the smuggling gangs, with 90 law enforcement officers deployed to the Hague, Sicily and across Africa. We’re using our aid budget and we’ve kept our aid promises. We’re using our aid budget to help alleviate the poverty and the conflict and the insecurity and the failure of governance in these countries that often drives these people from their homes in the first place.

Here at this summit there was a lengthy and at times quite heated debate about how countries deal with the vast number of migrants already here. Now the UK has been clear that we will not take part in any relocation scheme to move migrants who have already arrived across member states. But that is not to say we won’t play our part. We do play our part. Britain can hold its head up high in the world, not least because of the aid that we spend in African countries, not least because what we’re doing, the second largest bilateral donor in terms of helping the Syrian people at their time of need, and yes, we do take part in the programme of resettling the most vulnerable refugees, taking them out of refugee camps and elsewhere to give them the chance of a better life here in the United Kingdom, and I made an announcement about that last week in Bratislava.

But we do think these relocation schemes for migrants who’ve already arrived, we think they could prove counterproductive and we’ve been very consistent about that. Now others have decided to go ahead, but we’re under no obligation to join them, precisely because of our opt-out from the justice and home affairs matters. And that does prove, incidentally, why these opt-outs matter. It means that the UK can protect its national interest and focus its efforts where I believe they matter most, which is stopping these migrants from setting off for Europe in the first place.

What we have to do is break the business model of the smugglers, break the link between getting in a boat and getting a chance to arrive in Britain, work with the host countries from which these people have come and make sure that they can in time be returned. That is the key, I believe, rather than these relocation schemes which I think could prove counterproductive.

Now second, the Digital Single Market. This is a prime example of where we need the EU to unlock the potential that single market for the benefit of businesses and consumers across Europe. This is a market that could be worth €450 billion to our economies. Now the UK’s been driving this debate, putting forward ideas at the beginning of the year, which the European Commission have now incorporated into their proposals. Here at this summit I was determined to push for faster and more ambitious progress. We’ve agreed that we must tackle market fragmentation, invest in infrastructure, ensure that we create the right conditions for this market to boom. And if we can get a roaming agreement, that could cut the cost of mobile phone bills for people travelling abroad.

People often wonder, ‘Do you agree things at these summits that have a direct impact on people back at home?’ If we can deal with this issue of roaming, then people travelling to the Continent on business, travelling as tourists, we get serious cuts in their bills, and Britain, as ever, is leading the charge with that sort of practical change that can make a real difference. Our digital industries are already leading the charge across Europe, from Tech City in London to a world-class robotics hub in Bristol, and today’s agreement will pave the way for them to develop with even fewer barriers.

Finally, renegotiating the UK’s relationship with the European Union. The European Union needs to change. Britain’s relationship with the European Union needs to change, and I’ve got a plan to achieve that: reform, renegotiation and referendum. Now we’re already making progress on reforming the EU. We’ve cut the EU budget, we’ve cut the EU red tape, we’re getting on with completing the single market, but this is not enough. We need more substantive reform in four particular areas: sovereignty, fairness, competitiveness and immigration.

First on sovereignty, people in Britain rightly think that the EU interferes too much, that too many decisions are taken too far away from them, and that they absolutely are clear about one thing. They and I do not want to be part of an ever-closer union to be dragged into a state called Europe. That may be for others, but it will never be for Britain, and it is time to recognise that specifically.

Second on fairness, as the eurozone integrates further, and there were discussions about that with the Five Presidents’ report at this Council, we need to make sure the interests of both those inside and those outside the eurozone are fairly balanced. That in many ways is the key to what I’m trying to achieve. This organisation, the EU, has got to be flexible enough to have people and countries that are in the eurozone, to feel comfortable with their membership and countries that are not in the eurozone to feel that their membership is in their national interest too. That is the key. We need a settlement that recognises while the single currency is not for all, the single market and the European Union as a whole must work for all.

Third on immigration, we need to tackle the welfare incentives that attract so many people from across the EU to seek work in Britain. And finally, alongside all these, we need to make the EU a source of growth and jobs and innovation and success rather than stagnation. At this summit, my priority was to kick off the technical work on all of these issues and the specific reforms that we want in each area, and we’ve agreed that such a process will get underway, and we’ll return to the issue at the December European Council.

Now clearly these talks will take tenacity and patience, not all the issues will be easily solved, but I’m confident we can achieve this substantial package of reform for the benefit of Britain certainly, but I would argue for the benefit for the whole of the EU as well. Our membership of the EU will once again have a common market at its heart. We would have got off the treadmill to ever-closer union. We’d have addressed the issue of migration to Britain from the rest of the EU. We’d have protected Britain’s place in the single market for the long term. It will not be the status quo. We will have fixed problems which have so frustrated the British people. It will be a new and different membership, one that is better for Britain and better for Europe, a membership rooted in what our national interest is today, a Britain in Europe, but not run by Europe.


Prime Minister, do you have any intelligence of any British victims in these terror attacks and do we understand that they’re in some way connected?

Prime Minister

First of all, on the terror attacks, I’m not going to say anything more about them until we have more information. Obviously the ministerial COBR will be bringing together all the intelligence and information and perhaps after that, a further statement can be made, but we’ll be asking all of those questions.


I take what you just said about the attacks. Can you first of all address if there’s any indication at this early stage whether it’s the work of Islamic State or not?  And on, therefore, a much less urgent matter, can I just ask you, in terms of how you’ve described treaty change, is it worth spelling out to British voters that by the time they go to vote on whether they want to stay in the European Union or leave the European Union, that treaty change process may well not be complete, and therefore they’d be voting on a promise of change rather than actual change?

Prime Minister

First of all, on what lies behind these attacks, we will need to see more detail and get to the bottom of it, but it looks likely as if they fit into this pattern of extremist Islamism and violence, which we’ve seen so much of in Europe and in other parts of the world. And as I said in my remarks, this means we have to combat not only the terrorism, not only working with the countries that are suffering, not only dealing with the countries from which these people are coming, but also dealing with this poisonous mind-set, this death cult that is poisoning young minds and turning them to this path of mindless violence.

On the issue of treaty change, what matters is the substance involving getting that treaty change.  I’ve always said it’s unlikely that you’re going to get a treaty change passed through 27 different other parliaments before you actually hold your referendum.  What matters is getting the agreement, having a substantial agreement that involves treaty change, and then passing that – putting that into your own parliament and putting that to a referendum.  That is the process, and, you know, frankly, I mean, for instance, Ireland had treaty change, which was set out in previous years, and they held that referendum in Ireland before it was passed through 27 parliaments.  This is the usual way to proceed. 

What matters is the substance.  What matters is the deal.  What matters is what we get, and I’m absolutely clear: things like ever closer union, carving Britain out of the ever closer union, that is going to involve treaty change. What matters is getting that agreement, getting that substance, and then you can hold that referendum in Britain before the end of 2017, and we’ll, you know, name the date nearer the time.


Do you – some European diplomats in London are going back reporting to their countries that they think the chances of Britain staying in in the referendum are improving, the situation’s getting better.  Do you sense that at all or do you think it’s still wafer-thin? 

And can I ask you, when you eventually got round to talking to leaders together last night, you talked about other big crises that are on the agenda of Europe.  Did you feel a bit awkward?  Did you – crashing in with that, or did you sense as you looked around the room that people were grateful that you were bringing up the British renegotiation, or were they rolling their eyes slightly?

Prime Minister

First of all, on your first question, look, I think what is happening is that people can see there is a plan to improve Britain’s place in the European Union.  I’ve always believed that the wrong approach is just to say: “It’s a simple in/out referendum; you can have what we’ve got now and stay in or you can opt to leave.”  I don’t know what the British people want; what I want is what I’ve called, you know, one last go at trying to get the relationship onto a better footing, making sure we address the concerns that people have, the concerns that I have, and then holding that referendum. 

And I think ever since that Bloomberg speech when I set out the plan – reform, renegotiate, referendum – I think you’ve seen more people saying, “Well, okay, this is a plan, this is a strategy to try and secure Britain’s national interest”. And the more we do that, I think the more confident I am of getting a good and strong result, and then people backing that in a referendum.

But in the end, it’s not going to be my choice; it’ll to be the choice of the British people.  They will have the ultimate say on whether to stay in this organisation or leave, but I want to give them the very best choice by getting the very best deal for Britain.

In terms of the meeting last night, and in general about this issue – and I’ve obviously now spoken to – individually to the other 27 prime ministers and presidents, and as someone unkindly has put it, eaten my way round Europe on the way to doing that.  And I think, look, there – of course, you know, not everyone backs every part of what Britain is saying, but I would say there is respect for the fact that I set out very clearly 2 years ago a plan for reform and renegotiation.  I received a mandate for that from the British people at the last election.  And I’ve approached this by not kicking over the table and making immediate demands, but by going round and talking to everyone about these issues and what I think needs to be done to reform Europe and to reform Britain’s place in Europe.

So when it came to the discussion last night, of course, we had, you know, 3 very important things to discuss: the situation in Greece, which took a lot of the early part of the meeting; the situation on migration, which actually took a lot of time last night and the very important issue of Britain’s plans for this reform and renegotiation. 

And I felt that what I said had a good and fair reception, and actually, Britain played quite a positive part in trying to broker and bring about agreement on some of the elements that we were discussing last night.  And I think if you ask around the corridors of Brussels today, they say that, actually, we were playing a constructive role in trying to bring together countries that have very different perspectives on this issue of migration, and we achieved I think a reasonable outcome.  So I certainly felt it was an appropriate thing to raise, raised in the right way, and the process is now underway, and I think that’s important.


How much do you think the migration crisis, the eurozone crisis, will make it harder for you to convince voters to stay in a reformed European Union?   

And secondly, if I may, what did you know of Network Rail’s problems before the election?  And if you did know, why didn’t you share any of that with the electorate? 

Prime Minister

First of all, on Network Rail, I mean, the first substantive conversation I’ve had about this was with Patrick McLoughlin when he came to talk to me about the need to change the leadership of Network Rail and his plans for Peter Hendy, who I think is an excellent choice; he did a great job at Transport for London, and I think it’s right to let him get on with the job.

In terms of your first question, I think it’s a good point, which is, you know, particularly during the eurozone crisis, I think people in Britain were looking at Europe and seeing economic stagnation, seeing economic problems, and asking the question, you know, do we – is our association, is our membership of this organisation, is it beneficial for Britain? And, I mean, I believe it is beneficial for Britain, but I want to make it more beneficial by changing the things that are wrong with Europe.  And in many ways, the euro is at the heart of this issue because the euro is driving a process of change in Europe, because the euro is going to mean there has to be, in my view, deeper integration amongst euro members.  And what this means is that for those of us who aren’t in the euro, aren’t going to join the euro, in my view, I don’t think Britain is going to go anywhere near the euro, certainly not while I’m Prime Minister.

And what it means for us is that you’ve then got to make sure this organisation can work for both sort of countries.  The euro countries need to sort out obviously their arrangements, but at the same time, those countries, major countries like Britain, outside the euro, we have every right to make sure that our membership of this organisation can work for us properly, too.  And as the euro integrates, we will need some of these safeguards to make sure there’s fair rules to protect the single market, to protect countries from – that are in the single market but not in the euro.  So I think it goes to the heart of this issue.

I think we can demonstrate to people that a changed British membership in a changed European Union is in the British interest.  And that’s what fires me up; that’s why I’m doing this.  It’s the national interest.  It’s about making sure that our country, with its now stronger economy, with its place in the world, that it’s in our – the arrangements we have are in our national interest, and that’s what, really, in the end, this is all about.


So just to be clear, you are going to end up asking the British people to vote on a promise which has not been formalised in the treaty form, and often promises made by governments which perhaps are no longer even in power.  Is that a fair question to put to the British voters?

Prime Minister

No, I – well, I think the way you put the question is, if I might say, is completely unfair, because what is being discussed here is a substantial package of changes, including treaty change, that needs to be agreed before there’s a British referendum. And this is exactly what has happened in other countries and on other occasions; it’s the agreement of the package, including treaty change. That must happen but it was never going to be the case that you’ll get all 27 other parliaments to pass treaty change before you have your referendum.

But this isn’t in any way strange.  We’ve had a number of treaties passed since I’ve been Prime Minister.  We had the Croatian Accession Treaty, the ESM Treaty.  What matters is getting the substantial agreement, then taking that to the British people in a referendum.  And it’s the agreement that will be the difficult thing to get, no doubt about it.  So I think that is the answer to that.

What I’d say more generally about this is that, you know, look, there is always scepticism about these things.  And people have said to me, first of all they say, you know, “You’ll never actually deliver a referendum; you’ll promise it but you’ll never deliver it”.  We are now passing legislation through Parliament for a referendum. 

The next thing, some would say, is: “Well, you know, you’re never actually going to start a renegotiation; no one will allow you to do that.”  We’ve now started a renegotiation. 

The next thing people can sometimes say is: “Well, even if you start a renegotiation, you won’t actually get any changes.”  Well you know, we have got changes, we have cut the European budget, I’ve vetoed a treaty, we’ve cut European regulation.  Past Conservative governments, even some past Labour governments have actually then negotiated some important changes. 

I mean let’s take the opt out from the single currency.  I remember when that was negotiated that people said, well – firstly they said, “You’ll never get it”, and then when you got it they said: “Well that will never work.  It won’t be operative.”  And then they said: “Well, even if it’s operative to start with, it won’t last.” 

Well, I can tell you, I still use the opt-out from the single currency, and the opt-out from many of the other rules that eurozone countries have to use; I use that today in – you know, in the negotiations we have because it is robust.  So this idea that – that, you know, you can’t negotiate; you can.  You can’t win; you can.  You can’t get something that’s any good; you can.  It won’t last; it will.   And you know, another example is this opt-out over justice and home affairs, you know, massively significant because of, you know – including the work that Theresa May and I did in the last parliament to exercise this opt-out is in Britain’s interests, and here we are today, you know, discussing a plan for relocation of migrants, a plan I don’t think is the right idea because I think it can act as a draw for people to want to come to Europe.  Because of our very robust arrangements, we’re able to say: “Well, you know, you can go ahead with this but we’re not going to be part of it because we have negotiated this opt-out.” 

So you know, I’m an optimist: I believe you can negotiate, you can succeed, you can get a package, it can work and it can last.  Obviously I’ve got to prove that but I’d say it’s a reasonable start with the referendum bill going through parliament, the renegotiation underway, you know, work’s progressing. 


Prime Minister, Nigel Farage is saying that your renegotiation plan is a con and he’s saying that, on the basis of an account, a diplomatic account of one of your meetings with one of your fellow EU leaders in which you said that you have a firm aim of keeping Britain in the European Union and that you’re saying that a ‘yes’ vote to stay in the EU in the referendum can be won, but it can only be won if the alternatives to membership can be made to appear risky. I’m just wondering what your response was to that.

Prime Minister

My view is a wholly positive one, which is that I am making positive arguments about how Britain’s relationship should change, about how Europe should change so I can make a positive argument about Britain staying in a reformed European Union, and I’ve always said, if I don’t succeed in that, I rule nothing out, and let me repeat that again today.  As for Nigel Farage, I don’t remember him being in any of these meetings, but as this man can miraculously resign and unresign, maybe he was there in some corporeal form. 

But anyway that is what’s happening; I would say that the tour of European capitals and the conversations I’ve had with other prime ministers and presidents has gone well.  There’s a lot of hard work to do.  This is going to be – some of these things will be very tough to achieve, but I think, you know, people can see that Britain has got a legitimate set of questions, a legitimate set of asks.  I think people can see that there’s also a, you know, really deep and sensible thinking behind this because it really is a truth that I think more and more people acknowledge.  As I say, you know, this organisation, if it’s going to work for the long term, it’s got to be that membership can work for our eurozone countries; lots of issues to sort out there, but membership has also got to work for non-eurozone countries, and as this organisation changes, it’s absolutely vital that the non-eurozone countries, Britain included, feel that they get the sort of deal they need and the sort of organisation they need, to work for them, and that is, I think, a very positive vision, and I’m very excited about it and I think we’re making good progress. 


Prime Minister, Andy Burnham on Question Time last night made some quite interesting comments about the Schengen Agreement of open borders, and he talked about how the mass movement of people across Europe, both EU citizens and non-EU citizens has now become unmanaged and chaotic, and he said: “I think Europe has to examine whether or not those borders should be brought back.”  Do you have any sympathy for that opinion?

Prime Minister

Well look, I’ve always taken the view that Britain shouldn’t join Schengen and that we should make the most of the natural advantages that we have in terms of being able to have strong border controls.  And I think, standing back from it at the moment before I get onto what’s happening at the borders, you know, this is a good example of how you need a flexible Europe.  You know, when we’re in the European Council Chamber, as we were today, talking about defence, you know, Britain is a country with strong defence, with incredibly capable forces, doing work all over the world. 

You know, Britain is absolutely at the front and the heart of the debate.  You know, Europe without Britain would have far fewer resources and ability to actually effect change, whether it’s trying to get a Libyan government, whether it’s trying to pick up migrants, whether it’s trying to protect countries in Eastern Europe.

You know, so on that issue, we’re absolutely at the heart and at the front of it.  Some countries around the table aren’t members of NATO.  We’re not a member of Schengen.  Countries that are members of the euro; we’re not a member of the euro.  I think this idea of a more flexible network rather than a rigid bloc is actually one we should be proud of and should recognise.   Now, on the specific issue of Schengen, no, I don’t think Britain should join Schengen.  What the Schengen countries do is a matter for them.  We don’t just stand back and say, “Matter for you, not going to help”.  You know, we are actually investing in Frontex to try and help with the problems they have in the Mediterranean.  We’re putting police and intelligence resources into the Italian-run cell in Sicily so that we get to the grips with these criminal gangs.

So they will have to examine their own arrangements, but Britain will do what we can to help, because, in the end, you know, some of these problems get directly to us, as we see from the scenes at Calais and at Eurotunnel, which I discussed briefly with the French President today, and obviously we need to go on working with the French and talking with the French about what more we can do to deal with this issue.

So, look, Britain will keep its border controls, Britain will not join Schengen.  There’s more we can do at our border, but frankly, where I want some – would like to see some real change from Labour is, it’s not enough just to control these things at the border: we’ve got to make sure that, if illegal immigrants get to Britain, it is, you know, harder to get a job, it is harder to rent a house, it’s harder to get a bank account or a driving licence or the rest of it.  And that’s what’s in our immigration bill.  And if, you know, the Labour party cares about controlling immigration and dealing with illegal immigration, they need to get to work on that too.


You seem to have enjoyed your European tour, and a lot of the other European leaders seem to appreciate the softly-softly cooperative approach.  Do you with hindsight think you should have done this a bit earlier, and maybe, you know, 5 years ago taken more European tours like this and built the kind of relationships that would help you now with the negotiation?

Prime Minister

Well, I think if you go back 5 years, I did a lot of European diplomacy on first becoming Prime Minister.  I think one of the first countries I went to was France, and then to Germany, and I’ve often built alliances here amongst member states large and small for things like the change we’ve been driving on the single market.  We put together a very strong alliance to cut the European budget for the first time.  But this has been different in that I am specifically talking about reform of Europe and Britain’s place in Europe, and as I hope I’ve demonstrated, there’s some very thorough and thoughtful arguments, but there are some quite complex arguments about what needs to change and why, and I think that’s right to, you know, sit down and be able to talk to people and discuss with people, other leaders, those ideas in detail.

I’m not saying that everyone has immediately put up their hand and said, “Yes, David, that’s marvellous, all these changes, we can nod them through”.  These are going to be tough to negotiate; there’s some difficult issues to get through.  But, you know, Britain is the second-largest economy in Europe; the second-largest net contributor, the biggest defence budget in Europe, the country with the largest aid budget in Europe, so vital now when we’re dealing with these problems of migration, with a network of embassies and influence around the world, members of the G7, the G20, the Commonwealth, NATO.  You know, Britain brings a lot to Europe, and I think the European Union – when a country comes to the European Union and says “actually, do you know what, this way it’s working at the moment, it is not working for our country properly, it’s not working for Europe properly, we need to change,” the sort of Europe I believe in is you address those problems.  And often you find in the Council Chamber countries large and small have problems and difficulties, and we work on the basis of mutual respect, that you try and take on those difficulties and deal with them.

But as I say, I actually think that what Britain is seeking here, yes of course I believe it will benefit Britain, it will make our membership of this organisation more suited to what the British people want, but I also think it will be strong and good for Europe at the same time, and Britain is asking questions about competitiveness, about flexibility, about how the eurozone works with the non-eurozone.  As ever, sometimes our role in this place is to ask questions that need to be asked, that sometimes others aren’t quite so keen on asking, but it’s good to ask them as long as we can get good and strong answers, which I believe we can. 

With that, thank you very much.

Published 26 June 2015
Last updated 29 June 2015 + show all updates
  1. Added transcript of questions and answers from press conference.
  2. First published.