An interview with former ALDE Party President Sir Graham Watson
British Prime Minister David Cameron is currently seeking new conditions for the UK’s membership to the European Union. The Prime Minister is likely to host a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU by summer and on 18 February the European Council is meeting to discuss which new conditions they can offer Cameron.
In Britain the Brexit debate is already well underway and former president of the liberal ALDE Party, Sir Graham Watson, is currently touring Britain in an effort to show Britons that the Britain belongs to the EU.
Ahead of this important Council Meeting Sir Graham took the time to answer three questions on the Brexit debate by FNF European Affairs Manager Håvard Sandvik.
FNF Europe: You are currently touring the UK to convince Britons to vote to remain in the EU. How much of an impact do Cameron’s negotiations have on the mood for or against EU membership?
SGW: Probably not very much. The question on the referendum ballot paper has nothing to do with Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’: it reads ‘Do you want the UK to remain a member of the EU or to leave the EU?’ Cameron’s negotiation is about persuading the Conservative Party, not the country.
FNF Europe: The big crunching point of the negotiations underway to secure better conditions for Britain in the EU is the question over denying new arrivals access to welfare services. What happens if Prime Minister Cameron gets a weak agreement on this particular point?
SGW: The conditions proposed by Council President Tusk have already been rubbished by the tabloid newspapers and by Cameron’s anti-EU opponents. The less Cameron secures in the agreement, the more this will be the case.
But the attacks on Cameron are to be expected. What will distinguish whether he is a statesman rather than merely a politician will be whether he is prepared to put country before party.
FNF Europe: Cameron also wants to secure the symbolic exception for Britain to work towards an “ever closer union”. As a liberal, how do you assess such demands by Cameron? Do we risk seeing a watered-down version of UK membership as a result of these negotiations?
SGW: As a Liberal I regret the UK’s non-participation in the major axes of European advance. The Conservatives are seeking to withdraw the UK even further onto the sidelines. I believe this will damage both the United Kingdom and the EU.