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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 609.

    608 jon112dk
    "if my car turns into a 1.2 ton diamond over night."

    Would a Ford Sierra Sapphire be close enough ?

    "Please applaud me, the job is done."
    The jewellry is still out on this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 608.

    Camerons job is done?

    What a joke.

    Referendum IF they get re-elected with an overall majority.

    Tell you what - I'll promise to give everyone in the UK a well paid job if my car turns into a 1.2 ton diamond over night.

    Please applaud me, the job is done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    This is an electioneering strategy move only.
    Cameron is attempting to side line UKIP and the leeching of votes to it from the Tory heartland.
    Once in (again), the imperative for the referendum will be lost and quietly forgotten.

    We WERE promised a referendum before the last election and we didn't get it. Cameron must think the UK is a population of George W Bush's if he thinks we have forgotten.

  • rate this

    Comment number 606.


    DC painted himself into a corner."
    It was Ed Milibandwagon who gave a clear "No" not DC.

    "How can he argue that Scotland should not become independent when he himself wants independence from the EU.
    Or how can the SNP want to be in the EU but not in the UK ? By the way DC clearly stated yesterday he wants to stay in the EU.

    Your post is somewhat factually challenged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    Sorry Nick, but the real issue is did Beyonce actually sing live or not ?
    I think we should have referendum on this.

    Neither the PM or Ed Milibandwagon have ruled it out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 604.

    The argument is well encapsulated in the old rhyme: -

    See Saw Margery Daw,
    Johnny shall have a new master;
    He shall have but a penny a day,
    Because he can't work any faster.

    Nothing new in people controlling and ripping off other people, I'm afraid!

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.

    "A prime minister who says 'I will hold a referendum, but only after the next elections', is eyeing the next elections and not the referendum. I find what Mr Cameron is doing very implausible" - Martin Schulz, speaker of the European Parliament, hits the nail on the head

  • rate this

    Comment number 602.

    I would rather the political parties tell us what they intend to do in their manifesto's and then we get our referendum in an election. The millions of pounds we would have spent on it can then used to fund such things as infrastructure projects or giving tax breaks to new businesses. Things that might give people jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

    597. James
    Didn’t Davy mention something about how uncertain things would be for business during the long wait for the Scottish In / Out Referendum?
    And here we are waiting until 2017 for a EU Vote – Mmm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 600.

    Did Mr Cameron explained anything in relation to what powers he wants Brussels to return to london???

  • rate this

    Comment number 599.

    @595 That's the ploy of course to threaten an in out vote with his campaign for yes only if the europeans behave whilst ofcourse offering choice to the electorate where there is none from UKIP and Labour, Shows just how bright the guy is. Unfortunately , not sure the europeans will comply which still leaves a decision for joe public...

  • rate this

    Comment number 598.

    I’m very surprised that Europe hasn’t simply told the UK to sod off and sling its hook. The UK (under Tory Governments) has done nothing but bleat, moan and cause friction in Europe. So, Europe should make things real easy for us and tell us to get out and don’t come back and deprive David Thatcher of any future whipping-boy to blame for our problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    The Posh Boys have officially lost the plot.

    Cameron has shown his incompetence once again and has painted himself into a corner. By trying to appease his far right back-benchers he has given his front bench a huge headache.

    How can he argue that Scotland should not become independent when he himself wants independence from the EU (and will use many of the same arguments).

    The man is an idiot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    "conflict of interest"

    True, many 'conflicts' in business, in all life

    I often write "material conflict of interest"

    Point being, 'material to personal & family security'

    Not just to boost 'objectivity', in wide interest

    Vitally, in equal partnership, to liberate 'critical exchange'

    Feedback for better decision-making & 'efficiency'

    Efficiency in best shareable interest

  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    We must be stupid here in the UK, French workers break all the EU rules if they disagree with them, we should do the same. And if France objects to us having a democratic say then we should refuse to help them with their Military Operations. I want to have my say and let Dictators dictate to their own people. They should remember who fought to give Europe FREEDOM ?


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