Davos 2016: Q&A Session with PM David Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. His speech was followed by a Q&A session. 

As it stands with the renegotiation deal, has the EU moved at all in terms of demands on immigration? And, as it stands right now, would you accept it? Because the French Prime Minister [inaudible] on it this morning.


Well look, I would say we’ve made good progress. I mean some people said to me – first of all, people said before the election, ‘You’ll never actually legislate on the referendum. That’s just a promise that a politician won’t keep.’ Well we’ve kept our promise and it’s the law of the land. The next thing people said is, ‘Well, you’ll never actually get a proper renegotiation going, that won’t be possible.’ Well there is the proper renegotiation going and already it’s made very good progress. Are we there yet? As my children say when we’re driving to some long lost destination, no, we’re not there yet but I think there is the prospect, there is the possibility of getting these issues sorted by the February Council, if there’s goodwill and real movement on all sides. So I think it is achievable, it is doable, but we are certainly not there yet but I’m satisfied that my European partners and everyone is working hard to get this done.


And the crucial thing is not whether I’m happy with the deal now. Of course I’m not happy, we haven’t done it yet, but the crucial thing will be: is there a deal that I think answers the questions that the British people have put? That’s the question and we’ll know that in February. And, as I say, if there’s a good deal on the table, I’ll take it, and I will campaign for that with everything I’ve got. But if there isn’t, I’m patient.


Prime Minister, you couldn’t have chosen a more receptive place to give this speech about staying within the EU. I mean, I can’t imagine there’s anyone in this audience, or indeed in Davos in general, who is in favour of Brexit. But doesn’t that underline the gap between what you have in places like Davos, and in places like Brussels, where people do believe in internationalism? And then what a lot of people are feeling in the UK: they feel disenfranchised, they feel there’s a big distance from what is being decided here and what they’re feeling in their pockets, both with the EU and with the economy. What do you say to them?


Well, what I would say to everybody is the same thing; I don’t make one speech in Davos and another speech if I’m [political content removed] in rural England. I say the same thing, which is: if we can get the right deal, it’s right to stay in a reformed European Union. And if we don’t, then I rule nothing out, because you’re right, there is a disconnection. People feel that they want a European Union that is on their side. They want one that is going to help business, jobs and prosperity in our country. They want one where you don’t have to join the single currency, but your interests are protected. They want one which understands that the pressure of migration in Britain recently has been too high. Now I would say these aren’t purely British issues and British problems. I think you’re much better in politics – rather like in business, if you’ve got issues you need to resolve, have a strategy and a plan to resolve them, rather than just pushing them away and hoping they’ll go away.


Now that is my approach, and I think that is one that I’m grateful my European colleagues have answered the need for these changes, but I think if we make these changes, it will actually bring Europe closer to people and it shows that this is an organisation that’s flexible enough to solve problems that people have.


And I think we’re going to need more of that frankly, if we look at what’s happening with the Syrian refugee crisis. Again, we’re going to need to look at new answers. And I think that’s going to be crucial to demonstrate that Europe is flexible enough to respond to people’s concerns.


Prime Minister, I think most people completely agree about your reform agenda and the British option. But don’t we also have to stress a little bit about the common values within the European Union? That together we can do things, not just economically, but on security, like the sanctions against Russia which you were at the forefront of that we couldn’t do by ourselves and that actually, does quite a lot of good in the European Union.


I only had half an hour, so I gave you the speech about the 4 things that need to change. But there are 2 things I’d add to what you’ve said. First of all, you know, Britain is a country that has incredible connections, relations with all of the other European nations in the European Union. And there’s a lot that we have in common. You know, we believe in democracy, in tolerance, in rights, in freedoms, and those things, we are better able to promote if we try and promote them together.


And while, when you sit in the European Council, as I’ve done 43 times, I think, there are times when you can have frustrations and arguments, but you never forget that this is group of countries that used to fight each other and kill each other, and have actually now come together in a common endeavour based around some values that we in Britain are very proud of, in terms of committing to democracy and freedom and rights and all the rest of it.


The second thing I would say is that, I think, for many, Europe has, in Britain, has been principally an economic argument – and there are very strong economic arguments, including the ones I put across today. But I think in recent years, there are quite strong security arguments too. When you’ve got Russia acting as it did, destabilising Ukraine and trying to re‑write the borders of Europe; when you’ve got, in the Middle East, the death cult of Daesh, and the terrorist threat that we see on our own streets and in our own cities, then actually there is a strength and safety in numbers.


There is an important element of working together against these foes, not just in terms of a solidarity that we should show to each other as we face down these threats, but there are also some practical steps. You know, we’ve recently got the victory of having proper passenger name records in Europe, so when people get on planes between European countries and try to come to Britain, we can find out where they bought the ticket, what credit card they used, whether they might be linked to some problem organisation, all the rest of it. That action makes us safer.


And you know, I would just say, I think for years, many in Britain thought, well, the economy – that’s connected to the European Union. Security, that’s about NATO and our partnership with America, and the Five Eyes intelligence partnership. I think that view is still valid – those things are absolutely vital. But actually, there are things that we can do with European partners in terms of finding out when criminals are crossing borders, being able to chuck them out of our countries when they come, having better intelligence in the exchange on terrorism, and facing up to some of the threats that we face in our world.


So I think there is a security argument – a strong security argument – but all these things are going to rely on us getting an agreement to the problems and the issues that I’ve put on the table. And as I say, I don’t think any of the things I put on the table are impossible to achieve. I’m a practical person. I don’t want to go into a negotiation with 8 things I want and settle for 4; I’m very practical. These are the things that we need to fix. And I think we’re on our way to fixing them, but we haven’t got it sorted yet.


Prime Minister, I wonder what you’d say to your critics who suggested this is a dangerous and cavalier question to be asking [inaudible] going on [inaudible] you know, terrorism, to the refugee crisis, to the [inaudible] global economic recovery.


Well, I’m a believer in democracy. I’m a believer that my authority comes from the people who elect me. And I set out very clearly, three years ago, that it was time for a renegotiation; it was time to put this question beyond doubt, and hold that referendum. I set out that proposal. I talked all round Europe about it. I put it in my manifesto. The British people elected me on that basis, and I’m going to deliver exactly what I promised. And I think, in the end, think how Europe has changed since we last had a vote in 1975. You know, the single currency has been a huge driver for change in Europe. Now we’ve got to show that you can have that driver for change that’s going to change what the single currency countries do. And frankly I think they do need closer integration and more steps and measures to make a success of that currency. But Britain is not going to join that currency. If we’re going to work inside this organisation, we need the relationship between the two fixed.


As I say, I don’t think you do your country, or indeed Europe, a service by pushing these issues to the margin and hoping they go away; I think the right thing is to confront them by having a strategy, by having a plan, by working with your partners, by being very clear about what you’re going to do, and then going out there and doing it. I think we’re well on the way to doing that and I will accept the judgement of the British people when I put that question before them.


But I’ve always felt, many people in Britain are – so we’ll just hold a referendum. Just have – you know, put it in front of the people now. I would argue that’s a terrible choice to put to people: stay in an organisation that has got flaws and faults and need to be sorted out, or leave altogether. I want to put the question in front of the British people, here is a reformed European Union, and a European Union that’s addressed specific challenges that Britain’s put on the table. Now you can choose between staying in that or leaving. That’s what we’re doing. So I would say it’s the opposite of what my critics would suggest. I’d say it’s a very carefully thought through plan, and one that can bring great benefits not just for Britain, but for Europe.


Prime Minister, you said that migration is the most important issue for the British people. If there is no deal on welfare curbs for immigrants from the EU into Britain, is there no deal at all?


I’ve always said we need to have action on all 4 of the areas I’ve identified, and so this migration welfare question is absolutely crucial. People want to see progress on that.


I made 4 promises in the election on this front. I said that if people came to Britain, came to Britain from Europe, looking for a job, they couldn’t instantly access unemployment benefit. We’re well on the way to fixing that; you don’t get the benefit for the first 6 months.


The second thing I said is that if after 6 months you can’t find a job, then you have to return to the country you came from. This is a freedom of movement to work, not a freedom of movement to claim. And we’re well on the way to achieving that. The third thing I said is you can’t come to Britain, leave your family at home, and get British levels of child benefit. And again, I think we’re well on the way to solving that one. The fourth thing I said is that you should have to wait 4 years before you get full access to our in‑work welfare system.


And as I’ve said, that proposal remains on the table. I know that some other countries have difficulties with it. I’ve said that if there are alternatives people can come up with that are equally potent and powerful and important, I’m prepared to look at them. But we do need action on this front if we’re going to get the reform that Britain needs, that Europe needs, and bring this question successfully to a conclusion.


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