David Cameron is leaning towards staging the promised referendum on Britain’s EU membership in autumn 2016, according to reports.
October of next year now looks the most likely date for the in-out vote, which will be held by the end of 2017 at the latest.
No 10 is said to be edging towards staging the poll over a year before the absolute deadline – a date likely to be acceptable to both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ sides.
While the Prime Minister visited Slovakia on Friday, Downing Street and Foreign Office sources briefed the Daily Telegraph and other publications that October 2016 is now the most likely date, though the official line remains that nothing has been decided yet.
In a concession to Eurosceptics, Mr Cameron this week ruled out staging the poll in May 2016 to avoid clashing with the Scottish and local elections, which the anti-EU side think could boost turnout and the likelihood of a vote to stay in.
Many pro-Europeans want to get the referendum out of the way as soon as possible, to end the uncertainty faced by British business. Eurosceptics, who have just launched a cross-party ‘out’ group, fear that a quick poll would not allow them time to get ready for a “fair fight” against the bulk of the British establishment.
Steve Baker MP, joint-chair of the new Tory Eurosceptic faction, Conservatives for Britain, told the Daily Mail that the group would “welcome” a poll in October 2016.
The briefing about the likely date of the EU referendum comes as Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, demanded a formal role in Mr Cameron’s renegotiation with Brussels.
Speaking at the British-Irish Council in Dublin, Ms Sturgeon said 300,000 Scottish jobs relied on exports within the EU, and it needs to be sure talks between London and Brussels do not "cut against" Scotland's economic interests.
"The UK's membership of the European Union and the terms of that membership will have an impact on the Scottish economy, Scottish culture, Scottish society," she said.
"So I think it is really important that we have a formal role in influencing the negotiating hand of the UK government and also to be directly kept in the loop as negotiations take shape."
A poll for the Evening Standard on Friday showed support for Britain’s EU membership at its highest level for 24 years.
The survey for Ipsos-Mori, found that 66 per cent would vote ‘Yes’ to staying in the European Union, with 22pc voting to leave. Excluding don’t knows, the margin would be 75-25 for ‘Yes’.
Mr Cameron met the Slovakian Prime Minister, Robert Fico, in Bratislava, the latest leg of his tour of European capitals to press the case for Britain securing new terms for its EU membership.
Additional reporting by Press Association