Cameron EU referendum move 'jam tomorrow'


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Indy Politics

David Cameron today failed to satisfy Conservative demands for a referendum on the European Union after declaring that he was prepared to consider the idea - but not yet.

The Prime Minister was accused of offering “jam tomorrow” with his offer to go to the people once Britain's future relationship with Brussels, in the aftermath of the eurozone crisis and further EU integration, becomes clear.

He insisted that an immediate in/out referendum was not what the public wanted.

But, in an article for The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Cameron acknowledged the need to ensure the UK's position within an evolving EU has “the full-hearted support of the British people”.

He stressed there would be further opportunities in the coming months and years to win back powers from Brussels and that he wanted to be able to offer voters a “real choice” in any potential referendum.

He said he wanted to scrap “whole swathes” of legislation on social issues, working time and home affairs.

“As we get closer to the end point we will need to consider how best to get the full-hearted support of the British people, whether it is in a general election or a referendum,” he said.

“As I have said, for me the two words 'Europe' and 'referendum' can go together, particularly if we really are proposing a change in how our country is governed, but let us get the people a real choice first.”

He is expected to set out more detail about the possibility of a referendum in the autumn.

Influential eurosceptic backbencher Mark Pritchard said Tory grassroots were “fed up of aluminium guarantees” and insisted there should be a referendum during the current parliament.

“Once again, when it comes to Europe, it's always jam tomorrow. But tomorrow may never come,” he said.

Nearly 100 Conservative MPs wrote to Mr Cameron recently urging him to make a legal commitment to hold a poll on the UK's relationship with the EU during the next parliament.

Tory MP John Baron, who organised the letter, told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: “I welcome the fact he is now talking about a referendum, but you will notice he hasn't promised one and that he is justifying that position by suggesting now is not a good time for an in-out referendum.

“That's not what we have called for in our letter. We have simply called for a commitment to be put on the statute book in this parliament for a referendum in the next parliament.”

Conservative eurosceptic and former Cabinet minister John Redwood said: “We would like to get on with it. We know already what powers we want to get back.

“We need to disengage from some of the power-grab that is now under way as they desperately try to buttress their currency.

“The deal Britain should offer them is we will not get in their way if they are determined to move to political union and to very expensive transfers to prop up the banks, but Britain wants to move in the opposite direction at the same time.”

Tomorrow, former defence secretary Liam Fox will appeal to his party's eurosceptic rank-and-file by saying that “life outside the EU holds no terror”.

In a speech, the Tory MP will say: “I would like to see Britain negotiate a new relationship on the basis that, if we achieved it and our future relationship was economic rather than political, we would advocate acceptance in a referendum of this new dynamic.

“If, on the other hand, others would not accede to our requests for a rebalancing in the light of the response to the euro crisis, then we would recommend rejection and potential departure from the EU.”

Foreign Secretary William Hague acknowledged that Mr Cameron's intervention today did not signal a change of policy.

But he said there would be a “very, very powerful” case for a referendum if Europe moved towards a more federal system, as expected in response to the eurozone crisis.

“What the Prime Minister is saying is that the time to decide on a referendum or a general election on our relationship with Europe is when we know how Europe is going to develop over the coming months and years to the eurozone crisis, and when we know whether we can get that better relationship,” he told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show.

He suggested that the matter could be resolved at a general election rather than a referendum “if there is a clear division between the parties”.

The Liberal Democrats said Mr Cameron was speaking as Conservative leader, not for the coalition as a whole, and suggested he was responding to “internal divisions” in his party.

A spokesman said: “David Cameron has set out his views as Conservative Party leader about possible referenda following the 2015 elections, which he is perfectly entitled to do.

“However, the Liberal Democrats do not believe that there is much public appetite at the moment for an abstract discussion about a referendum on an undefined question at an unspecified time in a future parliament.”

Labour said Mr Cameron's positioning on a referendum was a “shambles” and revealed more about his “weakness” in managing his party than in his plans for a plebiscite.

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), said Britain was no closer to getting a referendum on the EU and told Tory eurosceptics they were “in the wrong party”.