Cameron's referendum gamble


No speech by the prime minister has been agonised over for so long. None will be of such consequence. None will be based on a bigger gamble.

Today could mark a first step on a road leading to Britain's exit from Europe 45 years after we first joined. David Cameron couldn't have been clearer that that is not his intention nor his belief about what will happen next. However, what he declared today was that he was no longer in charge. The people are to have the final say.

Even without the in-out referendum pledge this would have been a significant speech.

It was a plea for Europe to change itself for its own sake - abandoning the shared goal of "ever-closer union", accepting that the single market rather than the single currency was the key shared ambition and agreeing that powers should be returned to member states not inexorably transferred to Brussels.

It was also a plea to Europe to change so that the UK could stay a member and settle the issue that has caused so many prime ministers so many problems.

Beyond the call for "a more flexible, adaptable and open European Union" there was very little about what changes the prime minister will argue for. In other words we do not know what the new settlement he is seeking to negotiate would look like.

David Cameron says that if he can secure it he will campaign heart and soul for a yes (ie: In ) vote. He was asked whether that meant he would vote No if he didn't get what he wanted - whatever that is. He dodged the question. I suggested to him that he wanted people to believe that's what he would do but was scared to say so. He dodged the question again.

This is a gamble just like the one he took when making his "big, open and generous" offer to form a coalition in the aftermath of his failure to win the 2010 election outright.

He is gambling that his referendum promise will calm rather than stir the fury of Eurosceptics both inside and outside his party, that he can persuade 26 other European leaders to give the UK the deal he wants and that voters will then choose to back it.

If he pulls it off he will restore party unity, see off the threat of UKIP, put Labour on the back foot and secure a relationship with the EU which is no longer a political nightmare for him and his party.

If he doesn't the name Cameron will be added to those of Wilson, Thatcher and Major - those whose premierships were destroyed by that most toxic issue in politics - Europe.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    ... "reintroducing tariffs on UK goods, restrictions on travel and employment will be a welcome show of strength by the EU
    . -
    what an idiot, we but more than we sell, you will pay more..
    "bring countries into line" sounds like something Stalin would do.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.


    "..Did Mr Cameron explain anything in relation to what powers he wants Brussels to return to london???.."


    Yes. He gave employment law as an example.

    So it would become lawful for an employer to require you to be available 24/7/52, for whatever hours he liked, for instance.

    It would suit the apparently many neo-victorians nicely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    Is David Cameron gambling by giving the British people the promise of a referendum on Europe? I suspect that like the wily Harold Wilson he has a pretty shrewd idea what the result of a referendum would be. The history of referenda and plebiscites indicates a favourable outcome for those offering "choice" to the electorate. Cameron strategy is to pacify his Tory critics and begin electioneering!

  • rate this

    Comment number 611.


    "...Where's the option (3) for people (such as me)..."


    Quite. And me.

    Cameron, a PM without a governing mandate, has decided that no matter whether he's in the same position or not, the ordinary UK people will lose some of the protection they currently enjoy against the powerful, voted for by a proper majority.

    It stinks, as one would expect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 610.

    Not really democracy though, is it?

    It's a choice between (1) coming out or (2) staying in but with less powers for Brussels (assuming DC actually does do the promised 're-negotiation').

    Where's the option (3) for people (such as me) who want either the status quo or (even better) want to see a greater role for the EU in our affairs?

    As it stands I'd have to abstain and I hate doing that.


Comments 5 of 614



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