David Cameron said he wanted plans to stage a vote on European Union membership rushed into law in “extra-quick time” as the Government revealed the exact wording of the referendum question it intends to put to voters.
He will continue his post-election diplomatic blitz to explain his proposals for reforming Britain’s relationship with the bloc. The Prime Minister will embark on a 36-hour tour of European capitals which will take in The Hague, Paris, Warsaw and Berlin.
The EU Referendum Bill took pride of place in the Queen’s Speech legislative programme presented by the newly elected Conservative government.
And by fast-tracking it through Parliament, the Prime Minister will leave open the option of holding the membership vote next year, 12 months ahead of his self-imposed deadline. He told the Commons: “The EU has changed a great deal since 1975, and it is time the British people once again had their say.”
Seizing on Labour’s post-election decision to support a referendum, he said: “I am delighted the Bill now has all-party support, so I look forward to seeing it make its way through both Houses in extra-quick time.”
The Bill will include the proposed question which will be put to voters: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” Mr Cameron has committed himself to a policy of “reform, renegotiate, referendum” in which he will wrest powers back to Britain from Brussels and then put the revised relationship to electors in a Yes/No vote on membership.
He began making his case for a new deal for Britain – and pointing out he has a new mandate from the electorate for the move – at a meeting of EU leaders in Latvia last week.
But he will begin talking over the detail of his plans in meetings today with the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the French President François Hollande, followed by talks tomorrow with the Polish Prime Minister, Ewa Kopacz, and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He hopes to meet each of the 26 EU leaders ahead of a EU leaders’ summit in Brussels next month.
A Downing Street source said: “The introduction of the EU Referendum Bill is a concrete step towards settling the debate about the UK’s membership of the EU.”
The source said the wording of the question was clear as it would be for “voters to decide whether to stay or leave”.
But the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, accused Mr Cameron of trying to load the referendum in favour of a pro-membership vote. He said: “That Cameron is opting to give the pro-EU side the positive ‘Yes’ suggests strongly that his negotiations are so much fudge. He has already decided which way he wants the answer to be given, without a single power repatriated.”