What's the real reason to hold an EU referendum?


What's a Europe referendum for? Does that sound like a silly question?

Surely, you might say, it's obvious that a referendum is for giving the public a say on Britain's future in Europe.

Well, no, actually.

Some want a referendum because they think the people will do what no mainstream political leader dare - get us out.

Others - who want the UK to stay in Europe - want a vote to put pressure on Europe's politicians to give the UK what it wants.

Many Eurosceptics - both those who want to stay in and those who would sooner get out - believe it will put pressure on a British government to negotiate harder.

Most Tories hope that, whatever the vote is on, the promise of a referendum will help them see off UKIP.

A growing number of Conservatives believe, as Harold Wilson did in 1975, that a referendum is the only way of stopping their party splitting on the issue of Europe.

Very few, in my experience, simply want to know what the public thinks.

PS David Cameron and Liam Fox appear to be contemplating the same sort of referendum - a post renegotiation poll. What separates them is that the prime minister is clear that Britain needs to stay in whereas his former defence secretary is now ready to contemplate getting out. That's the divide that really matters.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The EU is obviously heading for some sort of cobbled together future political union which will be a disaster for Britain and probably for Europe. The EU has been a drain on this nation for far too long and we must now set our sights higher than the mediocrity of Europe and address our business and political associations with the emerging countries of Asia, particularly India and China.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    The lack of a reaoned debate on Europe is disgusting, with firstly a long history of subterfuge and obfuscation as to the end objective of this project, and secondly with an equally long history of only raising the referendum card when it appeared to suit the case.
    Poor leadership from both camps. No one willing to tell the truth, argue their case, and facilitate choice on a really big question.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Posturing. Pure and simple.

    To pander to his euro sceptic home team.

    And also to give the Liberals something to moan about.
    So they can distance themselves from the Tories during elections.

    The only imponderable is which is pure and which is simple..

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    What's a refrdm. for ? Good question NR - depends on who is asked & why?

    Politicians see a ref. as an opportunity to pull another one over the voters thinking there is no alternative to the skewed question(s) being asked?

    The electorate think that a refndm is for them to have their fair and democratic say - stupid 'so and so's'.

    Refndm. process urgently needed as has become a 'joke issue'

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Technically, DC has used a lot of words to promise nothing 'may consider', 'when time is right', etc. It is a non-story that the Tories know the press will run to cover. Hence, less talk of banks ripping off small/medium businesses via arte swaps while Osborne gives banks more money to lend to same companies! Simply smoke & mirrors, a distraction and guess what - you're covering it not the banks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    #35 What makes you think that anyone knows the answer to this? OFC plenty will claim that they do...

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    We voted for the EEC, a trading bloc

    No you didn't, a primary aim of the EEC was "to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe" There's no use whining because you weren't paying attention, referenda count regardless of whether
    people actually understand what they're voting for which makes them a very useful tool for unscrupulous politicians

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I think a referendum is a good idea. We also need a referendum on the NHS, a third runway at Heathrow, changes to schools, Scottish Independence etc etc. All these issues are at least as important as membership of the EU.
    Come to think of it, why do we need parliament at all. We can vote daily on the internet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    @33.Charlie says
    Why not send a reporter to Norway and evaluate if life outside the EU but within the European Economic Area is possibility for the UK.

    don't need to, you can find almost everything you need with regard to the relevance (virtually none) of Norway as model for the UK outside the EU from
    add in if required

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Surely the only criterion that counts as to whether we are in or out of the EU is which answer makes it most likely that the UK will start paying its way again. 2013 will be the 30th consecutive year that the UK has run a trade deficit, the main cause of our indebtedness. So will a trade surplus be achieved more readily either in or out of the EU? Simples!

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    "What's the real reason to hold an EU referendum?"

    If you under stand the reason for that referendum,no explanation is needed,If not,no explanation is possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Why not send a reporter to Norway and evaluate if life outside the EU but within the European Economic Area is possibility for the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Devo-max, a referendum, time to debate the issues. All the things the Tory Party and their Britnat allies said Scotland could not have in the UK, they now want for the UK in the EU.
    Hypocracy, charlatanism, fraud on the public?
    You could not make this stuff up.
    Brian Taylor-- where are you??

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    We're back to where we were 15 years ago:Tory infighting over the EU & whether to stay or go,whilst the ship of state ploughs on towards the rocks of economic disaster.These idiots aren't fit to organise a bun fight in a bakery,let alone run the country.They're consumed by irrelevant minutiae rather than the bigger picture-people are starving, but the Eton toffs with their inheritances don't care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Yet another promise of a referendum.

    BUT ....

    ... Only AFTER the election, when they can safely ignore the result

    .... And, just guessing, without the key question we want to vote on: 'Do you want the UK to remain in the EU? Yes/No'

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    But mixed EU and Euro could be saviour of whole thing. Even a move to soft 'southern' & hard 'northern' Euros would be established by a referendum (even outside EZ) & might attract increasing support even if some leave entirely.

    Some would like ref delayed and delayed so total integration can be achieved by stealth. Not good recipe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    "Very few, in my experience, simply want to know what the public thinks."

    Probably the most honest and useful comment on our nomenklatura [of all shades] I've read in ages.
    Politics is now a professional career choice; the public is just a inconvenience to be dealt with every five years before the politicos go back to the real business at hand, personal advancement

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    snuff @ 26

    Well, the ref should happen post Euro crisis (since only then do we know the nature of what we're contemplating being a part of).

    Two possibilities: European project fails, EU breaks up, ref not needed. Or Euro survives, project steams ahead to embrace much greater integration. Then we have the ref, and it's in or out.

    The halfway house option (e.g. in but no Euro) disappears.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Or to provide a way for the Tories to engineer a coup rather than be forced to resign in disgrace post-Leveson?

    Binary - yes - but multiple questions:
    Do we want in?
    Do we want to join Euro?
    Do we totally wish to integrate, ie surrender sovereignty?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Cameron, needless to say, is spouting this stuff to shore up his own political prospects. Ok, that's the modern way.

    However, we will (in the not too distant future) face an important decision: Do we, or do we not, wish to be part of a fiscally-integrated, common-currency Europe?

    That's a binary choice (it's a Yes or it's a No) and so lends itself well enough to a referendum.

    Bring it on.


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