Cameron may want to call a referendum, but he might not like what the public has to say

Unless the pro-EU brigadeis mobilised soon, its referendum campaign could be lost

In the next two months, David Cameron will make a long-awaited speech on Europe. He will dangle the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the European Union, but not until after the 2015 general election. He will argue, rightly, that the EU will be a different animal after the eurozone turmoil, so it makes sense to see its final shape first.

The Prime Minister, it seems, wants the British public to vote on whether to accept the new terms of EU membership he negotiates. He hopes an imminent UK referendum will strengthen Britain’s hand in talks on a treaty enshrining the new Europe.

I am not sure about that. Germany and France don’t want a “Brexit”. But, talking to their officials in the margins of yesterday’s failed EU summit, I was struck how increasingly fed up they are with what they see as the UK’s self-centered, peripheral demands as they struggle with an existential crisis. The chances of Britain securing big wins like opting out of the social chapter of workers’ rights are described as “less than zero”. The days when Germany and France will go an extra mile to help Britain may be coming to an end. That is a dangerous moment. Mr Cameron insists he does not want the UK to leave the EU.

But with the opinion polls shifting markedly in favour of withdrawal in recent months, could he deny the public an “in/out” choice? The Eurosceptics have already dismissed his plan for a vote on renegotiated membership terms as an “in/in” referendum. Europhobic newspapers will join them in demanding an “in/out” one.

The Eurosceptics sense the wind in their sails. At a Bruges Group dinner this week to mark the 20th anniversary of the Tory rebellion against the Maastricht Treaty, attended by Cabinet ministers Owen Paterson and Theresa Villiers, calls for EU withdrawal were cheered. “The overwhelming feeling was that our time has finally come,” one MP said.

At his Brussels press conference last night, Mr Cameron launched a scathing attack on the Brussels bureaucracy, a soft target and a tactic only likely to fuel anti-European feeling at home. He has not been alone in failing to make a positive case for the Union. Last month Labour hopped into bed with the Tory sceptics, unable to resist the temptation of defeating the Government by calling for a cut in the EU budget for 2014-20. Pro-European Labour MPs, appalled at such opportunism, were assured that the unlikely dalliance with the Europhobes was only a one-night stand. I am not convinced. “Of course we would do it again,” one Labour insider whispered.

Ed Miliband made a broadly pro-European speech to the CBI’s annual conference on Monday. In a break with Blairite Europhiles, he argued that Labour needed to acknowledge the EU’s failings but promised business leaders he would join them in arguing the pro-EU case.

His speech, in effect, brought Labour into line with the Liberal Democrats’ “pro-Europe, pro-reform in Europe” position. Nick Clegg, a former European Commission official and MEP, is unfairly caricatured as loving everything that comes out of Brussels. He has dared to speak up for the EU but has also argued  for reform.

“It took 15 years to decide on the definition of chocolate,” he recalls.

Mr Miliband was received better at the CBI than Mr Cameron, who told the EU to stop “picking the pockets” of its citizens –hardly language likely to make the British public feel more favourable towards EU membership. It’s a vicious circle: party leaders, anxious not to be on the wrong side of public opinion, pander to the Euroscepticism they have helped  to fuel.

The CBI leadership, which has been pretty quiet on the EU front, was urged to raise its voice by some of its members. One company head, who is trying to rally business support, told me that many bosses are privately sympathetic but reluctant to put their head above the parapet. The best he can get is pledges to go public when the debate begins – presumably when we have a referendum. Although he believes 90 per cent of business leaders would back EU membership, the danger is that by then, it could be too late to turn back the Eurosceptic tide.

Mr Clegg shares such fears. He is appalled by Labour’s opportunism and Mr Cameron allowing Tory Cabinet ministers to speculate publicly that Britain could have a cost-free exit ticket from the EU, even though we would have little say over the rules of whatever trading relationship remained.

Mr Clegg is right to be worried. Unless the pro-EU brigade is mobilised soon, its referendum campaign could be lost before it begins. Although none of the three main party leaders wants it, Britain could already be on a slippery slope leading out of the EU.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
News
news

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney 'denied all knowledge' of the Twitter activity

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
The author PD James, who died on 27 November 2014
people

Detective novelist who wrote Death comes to Pemberley passed away peacefully at her home, aged 94

Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
arts + ents
Life and Style
tech

Sites using the popular Gigya comment platform were attacked by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA)

Extras
indybest
News
people
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

Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Executive - Software

£20000 - £25000 per annum + 55,000 OTE + benifits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Software Sa...

Argyll Scott International: 2x Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

Langley James : IT Project Manager; 6 month FTC; Brighton; £400p/d

£400 - £420 per day: Langley James : IT Project Manager; 6 month FTC; Brighton...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?