George Osborne: EU referendum a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ decision
14 January 2016
- From the section EU Referendum
The UK’s EU referendum represents a “once-in-a-lifetime decision”, Chancellor George Osborne has said.
He told Newsnight it was “unrealistic” to assume the poll – likely to be held later this year – would be repeated.
Mr Osborne, who described himself as a Eurosceptic, said he was “optimistic” about reaching a deal on EU reforms.
The chancellor’s comments come as Leader of the Commons Chris Grayling said staying in the EU under the current terms would be “disastrous”.
The in/out referendum on EU membership has been promised by the end of 2017.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said he wants to campaign for the UK to stay in a reformed EU, but says he “rules nothing out” if his demands are refused – a line Mr Osborne reiterated in his interview.
“I think anyone who votes out on the assumption that a year or two later you can have another vote to vote back in… is being unrealistic about the nature of the choice.
“And I think it’s really important that the British people focus on the fact this is the once in a lifetime decision,” the chancellor said.
The EU referendum
Timeline: What will happen when?
Explained: What does Britain want from Europe?
Analysis: Cameron tries to avert slanging match
Mr Cameron has said he hopes to reach a deal at next month’s European Council meeting on his reform demands, which include curbs on EU migrants’ welfare entitlement.
His proposal for a four-year freeze on some payments has been resisted by other EU leaders, but Mr Osborne said he saw “the essential pieces of the deal falling into place”.
Some of the alternative arrangements to remaining within the EU “do not look very attractive”, added Mr Osborne.
He said: “I want us to be able to stay in a reformed European Union.
“And so establishing these principles – that Britain can’t be discriminated against because it’s not part of the Euro, can’t pick up the bill for eurozone bailouts, crucially can’t have imposed on it changes the eurozone want to make without our consent – these things really matter and they’re part of that resettlement.”
The chancellor – who has a key role in the UK’s negotiating team – said the Treasury was “100% focused” on the talks, rather than planning for a UK exit from the EU.
He also said the UK would be demanding a permanent guarantee that it would not have to contribute to future eurozone bailout payments.
He added: “I’ve been concerned about some of the things that have happened in the European Union, that’s why I want to make those changes.
“It’s a perfectly respectable position to say ‘let’s seek those changes, let’s achieve those changes, let’s have that new settlement, and then we can have the best of both worlds’.
“We can be in the European Union, but not run by the European Union.”
Mr Cameron has said his ministers will be able to campaign for either side in the referendum, but must back the government until negotiations are complete.
Leader of the Commons Mr Grayling, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said remaining within the European Union under the UK’s current membership terms would be “disastrous”.
He intervention has been seen as the first sign of a minister preparing to campaign to leave the EU in the UK’s referendum.
Mr Grayling said the UK was at “a crucial crossroads” and “cannot be left in a position where we have no ability to defend our national interest” within the EU”.
‘A good deal’
He backed Mr Cameron to secure the reforms he is demanding, a stance supported by Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
Mr Johnson has said he remains “very confident” the prime minister will “get a good deal” for the UK in his renegotiation with EU leaders.
Asked about Mr Grayling’s article in the Telegraph, Mr Johnson said: “He’s totally right to say unless you get reform, Europe will continue to be a zone of low growth and stagnation”.
When asked if our relationship with the EU was a disaster, he replied “potentially”, adding “that’s why we need to reform it”.
Watch the full interview with George Osborne on BBC Newsnight at 22:30 GMT and afterwards on iPlayer .
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