David Cameron promises in/out referendum on EU


PM David Cameron: "We will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice"

David Cameron has said the British people must "have their say" on Europe as he pledged an in/out referendum if the Conservatives win the election.

The prime minister said he wanted to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU and then give people the "simple choice" between staying in under those new terms, or leaving the EU.

The news was welcomed by Eurosceptics who have long campaigned for a vote.

France and Germany both warned the UK could not "cherry pick" EU membership.

During noisy Prime Minister's Questions exchanges in Parliament, Labour leader Ed Miliband said Mr Cameron was "running scared" of the UK Independence Party, whose poll ratings have been rising.

Mr Miliband, who said he opposed holding an in/out referendum, said Mr Cameron was "going to put Britain through years of uncertainty, and take a huge gamble with our economy."

In his long-awaited speech, welcomed by many Conservative MPs, Mr Cameron pledged to hold a referendum during the early part of the next parliament - by the end of 2017 at the latest - if the Conservatives win the next general election.

He said it would be a decision on the UK's "destiny" and, if he secured a new relationship he was happy with, he would campaign "heart and soul" to stay within the EU.

"It is time for the British people to have their say," he said. "It is time to settle this European question in British politics. I say to the British people: this will be your decision."

However, Mr Cameron did not spell out what powers he would like to see the UK take back as part of a new settlement or what would happen if the negotiations did not go his way.

'Very simple choice'

The Conservative leader has been under pressure from many of his MPs to give a binding commitment to a vote on Europe.


It has taken quite some time for the prime minister to go from promising a major speech on Europe to delivering it.

But today marks the beginning of a process, not the end.

The many Eurosceptics in his party will be pleased that he is offering an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU - although some will regard the timescale as tardy.

But there are important hurdles. He has to win the next election with an overall majority. His European partners will have to be willing to renegotiate Britain's relationship.

And while the promise of a referendum will unite many in his party this side of an election, the process of renegotiation might re-open divisions. What the PM didn't say today is what would he do if the negotiations deliver less than he would like.

Would he still proceed with an in/out referendum? Would he still argue for a yes vote? Would others in his party who would be prepared to stay on the EU on the right terms defect to the No camp if they don't like the deal the PM strikes with Brussels?

Labour and the Lib Dems say David Cameron is creating damaging uncertainty for business, but he has thrown down the gauntlet to them.

Can they allow him to be the only major party leader to offer voters a say on EU membership after the next election?

Mr Cameron said "disillusionment" with the EU was "at an all-time high" and "simply asking the British people to carry on accepting a European settlement over which they have had little choice" was likely to accelerate calls for the UK to leave.

"That is why I am in favour of a referendum," he said. "I believe in confronting this issue - shaping it, leading the debate. Not simply hoping a difficult situation will go away."

Setting out the conditions for a future poll, he said he would seek a "mandate" for a renegotiation and a referendum in the next Conservative election manifesto.

"And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in-or-out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether. It will be an in/out referendum."

But he said holding such a referendum now would be a "false choice" because Europe was set to change following the eurozone crisis and it would be "wrong to ask people whether to stay or go before we have had a chance to put the relationship right".

Mr Cameron said he understood "the appeal" of Britain going it alone and he was sure the UK would survive outside the EU. But, he said, the UK must think "very carefully" about the implications of withdrawal for its prosperity and role on the international stage.

"If we left the European Union, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return," he added.

The prime minister rejected suggestions that a new relationship was "impossible to achieve", adding that he would prefer all other EU countries to agree a new treaty but would be prepared to seek negotiations on a unilateral basis.

However French foreign minister Laurent Fabius warned: "You can't do Europe a la carte... to take an example which our British friends will understand - imagine Europe is a football club and you join, once you're in it you can't say 'Let's play rugby'".

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said Germany wanted the UK to "remain an active and constructive part of the European Union... but cherry picking is not an option" before adding that Europe needed more, not less, integration.

Conservative MPs who want a looser relationship with the EU said Mr Cameron's promise a "watershed" moment.

Douglas Carswell told the BBC it was the speech he had "been waiting to hear from a Conservative prime minister all my adult life", while Mark Pritchard said it was "a major triumph" and would unite his party.

Nigel Farage: 'The attempt to kick the can down the road for five years is not good enough'

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said the British people had not been consulted on Europe since 1975, and it was "high time" they were.

But the former European commissioner and Labour cabinet minister Lord Mandelson told the BBC that Mr Cameron was putting forward a "completely bogus and rather phoney set of demands and circumstances" designed to appease critics in his party.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander added: "We understand the need for change but I don't honestly believe the best way to get change in a club of 27 is to stand at the exit door demanding change or threatening to leave."

Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was a worrying that the UK had put its departure from the EU "on the table".

He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "It reminds me a bit of the Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles where the sheriff, at one point during it, holds a gun to his own head and says: 'If you don't do what I want I'll blow my brains out.' - you want to watch that one of the 26 (other EU members) don't say just go ahead."

'Threatening to leave'

The Lib Dems, who are the junior partner in the UK's governing coalition, say pursuing a wholesale renegotiation of the UK's membership will cause uncertainty.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who is also deputy prime minister, said "years of uncertainty" caused by a future referendum would hit jobs and growth and this "was not in the national interest".

Nick Clegg: "In my view it's not in the national interest"

And former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy told the BBC he could not see his party agreeing to a referendum if the Conservatives failed to win a majority at the next election and approached it to form another coalition.

The UK Independence Party said the "genie was out of the bottle" about a possible exit from the EU.

"Winning this referendum, if and when it comes, is not going to be an easy thing but I feel that UKIP's real job starts today," the party's leader Nigel Farage said.

John Cridland, director-general of employers' group, the CBI, said "closer union of the eurozone is not for us" but Mr Cameron "rightly recognises the benefits of retaining membership of what must be a reformed EU".

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the announcement showed Europe had to take the PM seriously, but added: "The lengthy timescale for negotiation and referendum must be shortened, with the aim of securing a cross-party consensus and the outline of a deal during this Parliament."

The BBC's Steve Evans in Berlin said opinion was hardening in Germany and France, with many politicians believing that those opposed to further European integration would be better off "leaving gracefully".

The speech, which has been in the planning for six months, had been scheduled for last Friday in the Netherlands, but was postponed because of the Algerian hostage crisis.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    Yes, he is scared of UKIP and no, I still don't trust him. Vote UKIP!

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    "A speech that re-enforces our global reputation as whingers and whiners, perpetually nostalgic for the days of the empire AND kicks off five years of UK economic turmoil."

    The FTSE doesnt seem to have crashed. As for turmoil, can I take it everything is now tickety boo in Greece, Spain , Portugal , Italy and that the Euro is all repaired and solid?

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    Anyone want to bet that, should they win the next election, they find some way of backing out of their promise? You'd think we might have learned from the last several examples from all three of the main parties that they only say what they know we want to hear in order to get into office, then do pretty much the exact opposite. If Cameron wants to give us a referendum, give it to us this year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    How come the elected government cannot decide this issue without a referendum? Is it so they can blame the British public for making a decsion when the majority of the public have not the foggiest idea the real issues they are voting for?

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    A message to the Europhiles: Why has it got to be made hard for the UK to trade in the EU if we pull out?"

    I keep telling you: because unless we NEGOTIATE a preferential arrangement they can, and history says will, impose tariffs and/or trade barriers.

    Read this for an overview of the options available to us:http://www.openeurope.org.uk/Content/Documents/Pdfs/2012EUTrade.pdf

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    We don't want a referendum in 2017. We want one now.

    DC should stop doing what benefits him and start listening to the people he was elected to represent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    We have Been promised a referendum by all parties before they get in, then they rat on us when elected so take no notice

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    I am afraid I dont trust Cameron. Why not have it now ? He will only change his mind again in 2015. I think UKIP is the better bet for the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    Cameron needs to stop wittering on so much and LEAD the people, that means understanding what we want without referendums. It's seriously destabilizing our economy at a time when we could be drawing in currency from the faltering US and Europe. There was a chance you could of been re-elected but with all the recent dithering across many topics - you don't deserve it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    When we voted in 1975 I remember the turnout had to be over 70% for the vote to be valid - to be in the slightest bit valid it should be the same if a vote takes place. Or will we have to do an Ireland and vote more than once to get the answer the government wants?
    I would vote to stay in as I believe we are stronger together - I am almost 70 and lost a grandfather and my father in 2 world wars..

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    "The EU will tax our goods into THEIR market very heavily"

    That's inaccurate scaremongering. So far I have heard a lot of this from people arguing for the eurozone and it's not helping. Trade would not be affected by import taxes as we would still be part of the EFTA - what might be affected is inward investment although our non-joining of the euro should have already had that impact yet hasn't..

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    About our trade being dependent on the EU - in 1972 our trade was quite dependent on the Commonwealth and we took a leap in joining the EU.

    Some of business wanted in, some wanted to stay with the Commonwealth

    One thing is for certain, EU businesses will want to trade with the UK, in or out of the EU

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    This has to be the most DESPARATE bribe I've ever heard from a politician who knows he won't get the majority in 2015.
    He thinks we are all stupid - not all of us believe right-wing media propaganda.

    Most people I believe are pro-Europe but the Ed's choices get corrupted by weird UKIP and Tory right-wingers.

    If UKIP and Tory right-wingers had their say we'd all be slaves earning 1 pound a day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    The EU vote needs to happen now, not in 5 years - that is just a dreadful attempt by a desperate Leader to draw votes back from disillusioned Tories who have moved to UKIP.

    UKIP is where my vote will be. Labour and the woeful Lib Dems are as Anti-British as Al Qaeda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    This is much better than giving the population a referendum now. I just hope that if this does go ahead that the renegotiation is really studied well and that we make an educated decision in 2017 instead of going in blindly with biased views of the past decades.

    Ed Milliband is a joke; he is the one out of touch with the views of Britain. It’s scary that he could be the next Prime Minster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    DavidinUSA @148 your comment about "successor states to the gruesome fascist regimes of the 20th century" is offensive and irrational. There's nothing fascist now about Germany, France or any member state of the EU - by definition. An in/out debate will be flawed if it's disfigured by such comments. Are you resident in USA? Will you return to live under the consequences of decisions taken here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    5 years isn't enough time to educate the masses on what Europe actually represents.

    Moreover, let's hope the noisy naysayers don't come to influence the majority.

    It's not up to Europe's leaders to connect with Cameron but more for Cameron to chum up to them.

    Britain needs Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    The Conservatives love big business, but not Europe
    Big business loves Europe and the single market
    Does Scotland want to be in the UK if UK is out of EU?
    Does Wales want to be left with England and NI?

    It sounds like the beginning of the seventies soap opera called 'Soap'

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    I cant help wondering why certain politicians are so opposed of a referendum - what are the scared of - Democracy ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Great news for the british people but could have done with it sooner. I am labour and I want a vote Milliband sounds like Ted Heath with this one nation tory stuff he needs to up his game & sound like Harold Wilson or Jim Callaghan. Always think Labour leader should be a miners, steelworkers fishermans etc son to be in touch with the working class Academics son says it all. Not happy with EU.


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