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 881.

    Problem :
    Eu is Ripe with Toxic derivatives - misbehaviour by the banks and Investment Companies (GoldMan/JPMorgan)
    Federal Reserve is never been Audited - Issuer of World Currency Dollar.
    Eu Single Market - needs to be disciplined.
    Audit the Books .
    Ban Speculative / short Sighted derivatives.
    Make Capitalism work For Everyone.
    Ban Vampire Capitalism
    No Grotesque Bonuses
    Spread Peace

  • rate this

    Comment number 880.


    For the past 2 and a half years I have seen an unelected party wreak havoc in the UK. Will this media propaganda and blatant electioneering ever end? Is anyone daft enough to fall for this spineless behaviour?

  • rate this

    Comment number 879.

    ....What Cameron is offering is blackmail!"

    Absolutely. The Tories did that in the 1990's on taxation. Just before one election, they reduced personal tax to get votes then within days/weeks of winning the election, they put income tax back up again.

    Our morally-repugnant Politicians from all 3 main parties will stop at nothing to stay in power and fleece the Nation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 878.

    Recall how the Scottish Government was told by London based parties to hurry up and get on with our referendum!

    Recall how the Scottish Government was told by London based parties that a 2 year run up to our referendum would be damaging for business!

    In light of this EU farce, can you believe anything that politician from a London based party says?

    No you can't!


  • rate this

    Comment number 877.

    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'".

    We joined a football club and want to play football not rugby - that is the issue

  • rate this

    Comment number 876.

    "688. NewConny
    May I remind British citizens that is was YOUR unregulated banking sector that caused a huge global financial crisis, making some people in London very rich, and many people very poor."

    The credit crunch started in the USA - but lets not let the facts get in the way of a good rant, eh?

    I take it you would like the UK out of the EU?

    So would many of us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 875.

    I prefer Mr Miliband's arrogant honesty to Cameron's legerdemain. That's surely the problem with politics, empty promises and deception like that of Cameron's and Clegg. If Ed Miliband could succeed in bringing back honest politics we should welcome it. I support Nigel Farage over Europe. But most of all I want politicians who mean what they say and say what they mean.

  • rate this

    Comment number 874.

    Just changing the subject slightly, why don't we have a secret vote in Parliament when members can vote with their own consciences and not at the whim of their party bosses. They have been voted in by their constituents to represent their opinions and not those of some party boss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 873.

    Does Japan (another "nondescript", immigrant-founded island in a vast ocean) have a problem of trading with the rest of the world independently? No, it doesn't. It's one of the main powers of the world through innovation... Get my drift?

  • rate this

    Comment number 872.

    Brilliant..well done Cameron, at last a real leader who has the guts to fight for a good deal for the UK.

    Ed Miliband is pathetic, and hasn't a clue, Labour's legacy is of failure, I hope the conservatives stay in office for many years to come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 871.

    How do we know we can trust him to deliver a referendum, no other politicians in living memory has kept their promise to have a referendum including himself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 870.

    It's a fact that not everyone has the ability to perceive straight to the heart of a matter and decide whether truth is there or not. Those who can will know that Dave is a slick manipulator of words; the speech looks grand but means nothing. Those who believe him are in for a huge disappointment. Real tragedy is that the awake and aware are being dragged into hell with him. Fool me once...

  • rate this

    Comment number 869.

    I checked earlier today and Cameron's speech was nowhere in the list of the BBC's most read articles. The EU is an issue for a small and vocal minority but I'm not convinced most voters are interested. Cameron might mollify the right of his party and win votes from UKIP but it is the centre ground he needs to win the next election. Giving prominence to the EU will lose him more votes than it wins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 868.

    A hollow promise from a person looking forward to being in opposition or in the Lords bar or on the after-dinner circuit or anywhere else rather than attempting to lead a Government. Admit it David, it's all a bit too much for you these days! And please Labour...get your act together and try to look and act like a credible opposition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 867.

    A referendum is a cop-out. We vote people into parliament and pay them well to make difficult decisions. Supposedly these people are well educated and have access to far better information on which to make a decision. On the other hand we could just let the bloke down the pub decide...

  • rate this

    Comment number 866.

    The guy will say anything to get votes. I would not believe a single word he utters!

    What he has done now is put the jitters on companies thinking about investing in Europe. Why base yourself in the UK when they could jump ship in 5 years? Utterly irresponsible!

  • rate this

    Comment number 865.


    I am a higher rate tax payer, own my own house, support my family and generally contribute well to society. Oh, I'm Irish - should I get my coat now?


    Don't worry we all have faults. lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 864.

    Once again Dave puts off a decision that should be taken NOW.

    EU, Heathrow 3rd Runway, New London Airport, HS2 etc etc


    Dave, you are not fit to lead a boy scout group let alone be a Prime Minister!

    No leadership, no guts, no bottle, no point.

    Election now please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 863.

    It doesn't matter for our economy whether we are in the inner circle of the EU. Large federal systems can work and can fail economically, the USA and the USSR. This is about politics.

    South Korea does very well and it is not part of the EU, but it makes and sells goods the world wants, that's what is important when it comes to your prosperity not which "club" you belong to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 862.

    I'll believe there's a referendum when I see the ballot paper. But, right now, there will surely be a few jittery sphincters in the EU corridors of power. I mean, just imagine if the UK leaves and posts even a marginal increase in GDP... the great elaborate European ruse would be up and there would be others queuing at the exits in weeks.


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