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 621.

    I think people will be sadly let down if they think voting for David will give them a say on Europe. His mind is already made up. He has a stack of cash already so any damage he won't feel. He's just looking, like all the other big boys are, too maximise those profits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    A desperate Cameron has gambled the farm on this being enough to let him recover his position. However it is so edged round with IF's that I doubt if it will ever happen!

  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    Ultimately this is not about money, but about Politicians and People. Obviously the Politicians want to keep as much power as they can because it makes them useful to their Corporate paymasters. Legit arguments can be made for staying AND for going. It's a question of what the People want. The question is, can you live with the results of a referendum? It's put up or shut up time. Don't dither

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    So when Alex Salmond announced that the Scottish Referendum would be held in 2014, Cameron produced the rather feeble joke of calling it a "neverendum", yet here we are with Cameron offering a referendum in not two, but five years time and holding it out as a carrot to the donkeys who might vote him in again at the next General Election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    @536 tom

    "We need Europe more then they need us"

    By what measure? We pay £10bn per annum to eat a la carte from their French made menu, much of which makes us gag, and we have a massive and persistent trade DEFICIT with them. An independent UK would , as per the Lisbon treaty, have a free trade agreement with the EU and we would be their biggest customer. Tell us again, who needs whom?

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.

    Mr Cameron, will you assure that ALL UK Citizens living in the EU will also get a vote in the referendum?

  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    How about a Referendum on 11th November 2018.
    Polling booths next to War Memorials.

    A reminder of the days when we had the largest Navy in the World, and fought for four years to defend Belgium's neutrality.

    Today's Casus belli some aspects of employment Law, the salaries of Civil Servants, and concerns about the shape of fruit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.


    Norway has a lot of oil, almost no unemployment, it can afford to stay in the EEA. I'm in Switzerland, also the EEA, its got a lot gold, its got no unemployment has had greater regulation on its banks than the UK. The UK has a limp economy, high unemployment because it didn't regulate its banks properly, its not the EU that caused it. It'll be colder outside than Norway!

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.

    Got to love a Government that gambles with our future.

    I'm not the biggest fan of the EU but it is "better the devil you know." Europe will become stronger and we're not exactly liked anyway, so do you really think you can control the beast on our doorstep from the outside? Look at Norway and ask them if they have it better? The prices are sky high and they have huge oil wealth to help them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    Why would British politicians renegade on referendums on Europe? Could I suggest they understand the benefits of EU and it is a purely political exercise to placate the Tory right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 611.

    Cameron is simply pandering to his back benchers who want to be re-elected.

    How is it that we ended up with this lot of posh boys anyway? No hopers, no experience. Just loads of money, their dads.

    Oh I know. It was Clegg that did it.

    Plan B for Cameron, Osborne actually, is to ditch Clegg.
    Blame everybody, including the EU, and ride off into little England.

    With the Bullingdon Boys in power...

  • rate this

    Comment number 610.

    1. I suspect that the key issue for 90% of those who would like the UK to get out of the EU is the desire to end unlimited immigration from the EU and this isn't mentioned. 2. I want an in/out referendum before the next general election and that must include ending unlimited immigration from the EU;the last census showed the essence of the UK is being changed by the massive scale of immigration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 609.

    I'll be voting no thank you very much since I'm not racist and xenophobic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 608.

    It does make sense to re negotiate first because in the unlikely event that we voted to stay in the EU we would have no bargaining chips left to then renegotiate. Just do it sooner than the next election and I'l be satisfied.

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    If the British people end up being stupid enough to vote Cameron in for another term, I'm not sure I trust them with a referendum on EU membership.

  • rate this

    Comment number 606.

    The TRUTH about leaving the EU:
    Jobs will be lost and it will be an economic disaster for the UK, it's as simple as that Mr Farage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    Tony bLiar is a right one to talk about 'Bazing Saddles', all about cowboys?

  • rate this

    Comment number 604.

    I see my comment is already on the Lowest Rated leader board. I'll try again. We need actual facts on the EU and the implications of the UK's membership of it, rather than scaremongering from both sides. I'm quite tired of seeing people blabbering on about the cost of the EU and ignoring every single benefit of it. Both Labour and the Tories are putting party before country...

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.

    Now let's hope Cameron actually has grown a pair and taht he manaegs to get something out of teh renegotiations. I am not holding my breath, I certainly don't want to vote for him, so referendum now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 602.

    Whatever our vote in this referendum-to-be, its mere idea shows how our presence in the EU is as observers,rather than as partners.

    There is little point in whining on how naughty the other partners are. We have been sitting at their same table for decades.They have been contributing to the decisions, right or wrong they may be. We have tried milking the cow and -rightly- not managed to do so.


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