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 981.

    Cameron is being politically dishonest, intellectually incoherent and contradictory. Above all he is risking our recovery even more.

    Cameron has promised a referendum purely to keep his party together and restore votes from UKIP. He is promising and in/out referendum having negotiated a return of powers from Brussels. Surely we would only need a referendum if we were sacrificing sovereignty!

  • rate this

    Comment number 980.

    If Britain pulls out of Europe and we don't end up living in dustbins and eating our own children, etc., but just carry on on as normal or even slightly better, what message will this send to other EU states? No wonder they don't want us to leave...

  • rate this

    Comment number 979.

    Assuming Scotland goes for independence and EU membership and England votes to leave, all the EU economic migrants can head North over the border and Alex Salmond et al can pay their benefits.
    I'd vote "out" just to see that happen LOL.

  • rate this

    Comment number 978.

    973.Simon I'm worried we're about to make one of the biggest mistakes in our country's history.
    That mistake was already made when we joined the Common Market and got duped into a political union that no-one wanted. The only mis-information you want to worry about is what comes out of Brussels and more importantly what they don't tell you, like where the extra money they demanded was going to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 977.

    910. koolkarmauk

    "Can't beat a good old UK based call centre though can you."


    Funnily enough, it wasn't like this before the EU. We made ceramics, steel, vehicles, engines...... etc etc. And you think this won't restart? We obviously have to manufacture things to bring in revenue. You really think we're all going to sit on our arses and decent into 3rd world status out of the EU?

  • rate this

    Comment number 976.

    All I'm hearing is out NOW because of the flood of immigrants.. The highest population of immigrants come from Asia, not exactly Europe is it. At least with the Eastern Europeans we get a handyman job well down, as opposed to a cowboy.

    This country is surviving purely on it's Financial Headquarters being based here for Europe. When we leave Europe the headquarters FOR Europe will also go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 975.

    As usual most of those commenting did not listen to what the PM said and are much more intent than peddling their particular mind set rather than any constructive thoughts on how change could better be achieved. The loudest noise comes those who signed away so much of our interests without a mandate to the EU - many on the Labour frontbench + Blair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 974.

    914. sannudayiki "The info available on the EU would fill a couple of libraries at least, not just a few paragraphs in the Express, Mail or Sun. Engage and analyse!"
    Yes but not all of us have the time to read the Grauniad, sit in the library reading all that gripping stuff you mentioned, we have better things to do ...its called life!

  • rate this

    Comment number 973.

    Maybe I'm just cynical, but I'm not sure if I trust the the average British voter to make an informed decision on such an important issue. It's staggering how much misinformation there is regarding the EU. Too many people influenced by The Daily Mail, without listening to the other side of the argument. I'm worried we're about to make one of the biggest mistakes in our country's history

  • rate this

    Comment number 972.

    subsidising french sausage farmers is clearly not in the national interest of the uk. renegotiation is needed, but kowtowing to the right with a referendum is not the answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 971.

    I'm a normal bloke whose career in construction is under threat daily. My wife has just lost her job due to government changes made to shrink her industry. We both have student debt and £20k plus to save for a house deposit. Forgive me for being slightly peeved over the effort and fanfare around this story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 970.

    One thing is for certain, the 3 million+ migrants from the eu living here will get a vote and will be voting to stay in.

    So the vote will be just like what the uk has become, one big expensive joke!

  • rate this

    Comment number 969.

    If UK leaves the EU, there will be much more disadvantages for UK than advantages (if any). This is not known by British as they don't consider themselves Europeans and are not well-informed. Therefore the idea of referendum is very dangerous. This is an attempt of the government to distract the public from their inability to solve local problems which are in their control, not up to the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 968.

    875. - If you believe that Milliband is showing genuine honesty in his utterances then you are politically stupid. Now if his brother was leading the Party, I would give you 50-50 on the honest politics bit. Labour and Conservative have got the electorate sown up so well that, they say and do anything they want in the knowledge that one or other of them is always in power but both in the gravy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 967.

    "923. philstar78
    Just have to wait until finally the EU project breaks down with no more money available.."

    I wouldn't hold your breath.

    I am sure the German economy is in a much better underlying state than ours, even after "digesting" the mess in East Germany.

    The problem was allowing countries like Greece into the Euro zone, which should not have been attempted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 966.

    Why wait 5 years? Have a referendum now. If we vote to stay in the EU, no point in negotiating. If we vote to leave, the government has a mandate to leave if the EU won't negotiate. The other EU members sell more to us than we sell to them, so their companies have more to lose than ours do. In any event what an argument, give up your freedom and identity so we might let you keep your job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 965.

    The only reason the (s)tories want out is to remove our rights and freedoms so they can accelerate the enslavement of the British people in pursuit of their neoliberal dream. Bye bye employment rights, environmental protection, hello a flat tax rate that everyone pays including the poor, no severance, no unfair dismissal, no fines for pollution, the green belt, sssi's... good grief.

  • rate this

    Comment number 964.

    Wow a great speech, who would have thought it would start to unravel before he had even sat down........lol nice one Dave

  • rate this

    Comment number 963.

    For what are the people who want to stay in the EU, but do not want DC's inevitably anti-people's rights, pro-sweatshop, pro-landlord, pro-moneylender etc., new negotiated deal to vote, in any referendum?

    They're not to be given that choice are they? Nasty, mean little UK, in or out, that will be it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 962.

    @931.Eddy from Waring

    "Kein Cherrypicking" say the Germans. "Pas de l'Europe a la carte" the French.

    These seem like agreed red lines.

    What, and with whom is DC to negotiate?...''


    The French and Germans since the French and German media do not necessarily reflect the private views of their politicians. The French and Germans will not want to lose the UK's contribution.


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