Remarks by President Donald Tusk after the European Council meeting on 19 February 2016

Good evening, we have just achieved a deal which strengthens Britain’s special status in the European Union. It is a legally binding and irreversible decision by all 28 leaders. The settlement addresses all of Prime Minister Cameron’s concerns without compromising our fundamental values.

During our long and often heated discussions, we haggled over the smallest details of the deal. Perhaps it was not an aesthetic spectacle, and far from glamorous. What matters, however, is that the European leaders did not walk away from the negotiating table, as something much more important was at stake. We have sent out a signal that we are all willing to sacrifice part of our interests for the common good, to show our unity.

The times we live in are stormy and unpredictable, with all the crises raging around us. If you think I am over-dramatising, just look at what is happening at this very moment. The greatest migration crisis in the history of Europe. The imminent threat of borders closing on our continent. Terrorist attacks in Turkey, airstrikes in Libya, war flaring up in Syria. The growing conflict between Russia and Turkey. Unfortunately, I could go on.

Exceptional times need exceptional words. And nobody expressed himself better than Winston Churchill. Let me quote what he said in Zurich in 1946. His words maybe sound too solemn. But it is worth recalling them, to realize that even though everything has changed over the years, in fact nothing has changed. And surely one thing that has not changed is that all Europe needs to stand united.

“If Europe is to be saved from infinite misery, as Churchill said, and indeed from final doom, there must be this act of faith in the European family. Can the peoples of Europe rise to the heights of the soul and of the instinct and spirit of man? What is sovereign remedy? It is to recreate the European fabric, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, safety and freedom. Therefore I say to you, let Europe arise.” End of quote.

I deeply believe that the United Kingdom needs Europe, and Europe needs the United Kingdom. To break the link now would be totally against our mutual interests. We have done all we could not to let that happen. But the final decision is in the hands of the British people.