'It is time for the British people to have their say': David Cameron promises EU exit vote by 2017
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 23 January 2013
David Cameron called today for a fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with the European Union as he made his promise of an “in or out referendum” within five years on whether the country should remain a member of the 27-nation club.
In a landmark speech on Europe that will set the tone for British politics for years, the Prime Minister said the “ever closer union” which was the founding principle of the EU should no longer apply to Britain.
"We understand and respect the right of others to maintain their commitment to this goal. But for Britain – and perhaps for others – it is not the objective. And we would be much more comfortable if the treaty specifically said so, freeing those who want to go further, faster, to do so, without being held back by the others.
“Power must be able to flow back to member states, not just away from them,” he said. “Nothing should be off the table.” He added: “The biggest danger to the EU comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy. In its long history Europe has experience of heretics who turned out to have a point,” he said.
Mr Cameron pledged that, if the Conservatives win the May 2015 election, a referendum would be held within the first half of the five-year parliament – which means by the end of 2017. It will be the first referendum on Europe since Britain voted in 1975 to stay in the EU, two years after joining.
Although his clear promise of a simple “in or out” vote was welcomed by Tory Eurosceptics, his speech left some crucial questions unanswered. Mr Cameron said he wanted Britain to remain in the EU and was confident of winning a “new settlement”, with some powers returned from Brussels to London, that would enable him to recommend a Yes vote in the referendum. But answering questions after his address, he refused to say what he would do if other EU leaders did not give him a deal he could recommend to the British public. This is seen as a highly possible scenario on the Continent, where other EU nations say the UK cannot “cherry-pick” the EU laws which suit it.
Mr Cameron said he would table Britain’s demands even if the EU backed away from a new treaty to entrench reforms to the eurozone. "If there is no appetite for a new treaty for us all then of course Britain should be ready to address the changes we need in a negotiation with our European partners," he said.
He questioned the EU’s need to legislate on areas such as the environment, social affairs and crime and made clear that Britain wanted to extend its opt-out from aspects of the working time directive. "It is neither right nor necessary to claim that the integrity of the single market, or full membership of the EU requires the working hours of British hospital doctors to be set in Brussels irrespective of the views of British parliamentarians and practitioners,” he said.
Mr Cameron had some words of reassurance for pro-British businessmen. “I never want us to pull up the drawbridge and retreat from the world. I am not a British isolationist. I don’t just want a better deal for Britain. I want a better deal for Europe too. So I speak as British Prime Minister with a positive vision for the future of the EU. A future in which Britain wants, and should want, to play a committed and active part.”
- 2 Question Time's 'passionate highlander' is the William Wallace of the Better Together campaign
- 3 PornHub begs users to stop uploading video clips of Brazil getting beaten 7-1
- 5 The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week
Instagram of US airport security chiefs: Lipstick knives and IED training kits among items seized
Game of Thrones author George RR Martin says 'f*** you' to fans who fear he will die before finishing Westeros saga
Question Time's 'passionate highlander' is the William Wallace of the Better Together campaign
Israel-Gaza crisis: Eight killed in Gaza Strip cafe while watching World Cup semi-final
Supermoon 2014: When and why will the moon look bigger and brighter this summer?
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
There’s a nasty smell in the political air – and it’s coming from the Tories
£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...
competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...
£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...
£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...