Here are some of the key points…
The prime minister addresses the British people directly as he says the referendum will be final and says this is the only chance people have to get it right. It will be, he says:
Your decision, nobody else’s – not politicians’, not Parliament’s, not lobby groups’, not mine. Just you. You the British people will decide. At that moment you will hold this country’s destiny in your hands. This is a huge decision for our country – perhaps the biggest we will make in our lifetimes. And it will be a final decision.”
It appeared that the prime minister might be building up to a conclusion but he has now moved on to an analysis of what future the UK would have outside the European Union. He says a looser arrangement, such as Norway has with the EU, is not “an automatic fast track to a land of milk and honey” and that negotiating bilateral trade and other deals will take time. He also says leaving the EU would have repercussions for the UK’s national security, saying its allies are keen for it to remain in the union so it is able to exert its global.
If the prime minister was not present at those EU summits, we would lose our voice and our ability to change things permanently in the world.”
This part of the speech repeats messages heard a fair amount in the past few days. Mr Cameron says that if the UK’s objectives are not met and its demands fall on “deaf ears”, he will consider whether “membership of the club is right for the UK” – adding once again that he rules “nothing out” in such a situation. He goes on to to say that the UK should not face a choice of being “isolated outside the EU or marginalised in it”.
The prime minister is hardening his rhetoric now. He says his reasonableness should not be mistaken for a “lack of resolve”. He says the EU has reached a decisive moment and that it is “eminently” possible for the EU to equally serve the needs and ambitions of eurozone and non-eurozone countries. He is confident that he will get a deal, and if he does that, he will campaign with “all his heart and soul” as it would be in the country’s national interest.
Mr Cameron says he recognises that some people will think his objectives are “too little” and others “too much”. But he says it is a “carefully designed package” to fix the problems in the UK’s relationship. The demands are not “outlandish or absurd” but “reasonable”.
The “pull factors” that are attracting EU migrants to the UK need to be reduced. The PM says that migrants should only be able to qualify for in-work benefits and social housing once they have been resident for four years. The UK should also stop EU migrants from claiming child benefit to be sent to dependents abroad. Mr Cameron says he is open to different ways of achieving this but makes clear that tackling abuses and controlling EU migration “in line with our manifesto” is non-negotiable.
The prime minister moves on to welfare and migration. The UK is an open and tolerant country but the public expressed concerns at the election about the scale and impact of immigration. While the UK does not want to destroy the principle of freedom of movement, which many British citizens “take for granted”, he says this does not mean an “unqualified right” to come to the UK and claim welfare.
The UK will scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, Mr Cameron says, as he runs through a range of proposals to give British courts more power, most of which will be consulted on.
The prime minister is now moving on to demands for greater sovereignty for national Parliaments. He says that he recognises that to give the UK, or any other single country, a veto over European directives would lead to “gridlock” but groups of Parliaments should be able to combine to reject new laws, the so-called “red card” system. The process of subsidiarity, that decisions are taken at a national level wherever possible, should be applied in full.
Disillusionment with the EU is not unique to the UK but is perhaps more acute than in any other country. The idea of ever-closer union, one of the EU’s founding principles is not one that the UK subscribes to, he says, because the UK has a “different vision”. The UK is seeking a legally-binding opt-out from ever-closer union so it is not “entangled” in further political integration or the prospect of a United States of Europe.
The PM moves on to competitiveness, saying the burden of regulation is too high and there needs to be a target for reducing it. Competitiveness needs to be “written into the DNA” of the union, he adds.
David Cameron moves on to the changes that he wants to see – the meat of his renegotiation demands. He starts by insisting that the “European Union and the eurozone are not the same thing”. As the eurozone integrates further, countries outside it cannot be discriminated against or face extra costs. If the UK and other countries are marginalised or pushed to the side as part of this process then it will be apparent that “membership of the club is not for us”. He says this is a matter of “cardinal importance” and the UK wants a number of safeguards – including a recognition that sterling is one of the currencies of the European Union, as well as protection for the single market.
The PM elaborates on some of the EU’s weaknesses, saying it is not competitive enough, not accountable enough and too distant from its citizens. He also says it has struggled to deal with the migrant crisis and these pressures are only going to get worse.
The future of the UK in Europe is a matter of national security, not just economic security, not just jobs and trade but safety. While the UK will never be part of the eurozone, he says it is important that the eurozone thrives as the UK cannot be immune from its shortcomings. The UK benefits from its EU membership, he says, but it cannot ignore or “wish away” the problems it faces as “history suggests they will only get worse”.
David Cameron says his attitude to Europe is “practical, not emotional” and driven by “head not heart”. He says this may “disappoint” many in Europe who have a more romantic attachment to its ideal. The UK has down-to-earth approach to the EU, having contributed in “full measure” to the freedom that Europe enjoys today over the past 100 years.
The challenges facing the EU have increased since 2013, Mr Cameron says, citing the conflict in Ukraine, the rise of Islamic State and the migrant crisis. The EU comprises 28 “ancient nations of Europe and its diversity is its greatest strength”. His view is that “less Europe” is often better than “more Europe” and the EU must demonstrate the “flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc”.
The prime minister says the formal part of his EU negotiations are now beginning following a period of technical talks and he wants to explain the purpose and what he is trying to achieve. He says the decision is perhaps the “most important that the British people will take at the ballot box in their lifetime”.
David Cameron begins by reflecting on a speech he made almost three years ago, when he promised a referendum on the UK’s future on the EU if he won the 2015 general election. That promise is “now being honoured”, he says.