David Cameron's promise of an in/out referendum was full of contradictions and creates more, not less, uncertainty about Britain's future

A former leader of Belgium lambasts this morning's speech by the Prime Minister

Related Topics

David Cameron's promise to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union within the next five years, regardless of the state of negotiations over a revised EU Treaty, is playing with fire. He can control neither the timing nor the outcome of the negotiations, and in so doing is raising false expectations that can never be met and jeopardising both Britain's long-term interests and the unity of the EU.

The speech itself contained something for everyone, as its main purpose was to unite his own party on the issue of Europe. But it was full of inconsistencies.

Strength in numbers

He claims to want a common set of rules for the Single Market at the same time as wanting exceptions for Britain. He wants a Single Market Council to focus on raising competitiveness, but we already have one. He wants a global response to terrorism but aims to withdraw the UK from co-operation on justice and police work. He claims that Europe just offers more of the same and never changes; but the EU is constantly changing and adapting to circumstances.

I expect more integration will be necessary - at least within the Eurozone - in the years ahead as a response to the debt and banking crisis. It is the Conservative Party's 'conservative' attitude to Europe that perhaps needs to change, and instead recognise that in the 21st century Member States wield greater influence by sticking and acting together.

Seeking unilateral renegotiation or repatriation of existing powers would threaten the integrity of the Single Market and risks precipitating a free-for all as other countries seek concessions to suit their own national interests. Cameron will not succeed if he attempts to hold his European partners to ransom.

The real problem for Cameron is the internal rift within his own party and the pressure from Ukip. He seems to be jeopardising the interests of his country for internal party stability. Britain has suffered over the years from the chronic failure of politicians to make a positive case for Europe and counter the untruths in much of the populist press. He did make an attempt at this in sections of the speech, suggesting that it was not his vision to see Britain isolated in the world.

Contradicting himself

But by promising to effectively pull Britain out of the EU unless he can repatriate powers he contradicts his own intentions and creates more, not less, uncertainty about Britain's future.

The one positive effect of the speech is the genuine debate that is finally taking place about the EU and Britain's place in it. Business leaders and US diplomats have lately decided to speak out publicly, so worried are they by the prospects of Britain cutting itself off from the world's largest trading bloc.

I favour a more efficient European Union, with enhanced capability to act on the global stage - including co-ordinating responses to conflict and terror threats in our neighbourhood. Britain has been and surely will continue to be a key part of that - but only if it remains a full member of the club.

Guy Verhofstadt was Prime Minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008. He is President of the Group of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference