'It is time for the British people to have their say': David Cameron promises EU exit vote by 2017

 

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.”

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat