Author: David Archer
Published: 14:44 23/01/2013
Prime Minister David Cameron has delivered a landmark speech promising to deliver a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union , providing the Conservatives win the next general election. He said “It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics”. The vote would be held by 2017, by which time he expects to have negotiated a new relationship with the European Union.
The leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has questioned Cameron’s motives, saying on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “All he’s trying to do is to kick the can down the road and to try and get UKIP off his back...If Mr Cameron was really serious about renegotiation then...he would invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which is the only mechanism that exists with the treaties to take powers back”.
The Liberal Democrats are also critical of the referendum proposals, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg saying that it would create years of “grinding uncertainty”, threatening economic growth.
No surprise, too, that Labour has also slammed Cameron’s speech, with Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, commenting that Cameron “has made the wrong speech at the wrong time; this speech will lead to more questions, more uncertainty and more instability”.
European leaders question Cameron’s intentions, believing that Cameron is merely seeking to appease the Euro sceptics in his party and appease the British public. European power house Germany has responded to the speech with gusto with Guido Westerwelle, the German Foreign Minister, saying of the proposals to bring back powers over working hours, crime, environment and social policy that “Cherry picking is not an option”. Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, concurs, saying “We want the British to be able to bring all their positive characteristics to Europe...but you can’t do Europe a la carte”. Cameron clearly faces a mighty battle within Parliament and with European leaders as he seeks to secure the interests of the United Kingdom.
All these reactions must have been anticipated by Cameron and his team of advisors, but he believes the gamble is worth taking. Certainly Euro sceptics within his party are pleased with his intentions, although they doubt whether he will be able to achieve a meaningful renegotiation of the UK’s position within the European Union. But Boris Johnson, influential Mayor of London, says Cameron is “bang on” with his strategy, and the move to a referendum will undoubtedly please a significant proportion of voters who are increasingly concerned about the power exerted by the European Union over significant issues in the United Kingdom.
David Cameron is rejecting the EU principle of “ever closer” union, warning that the public’s disillusionment with the EU is “at an all time high” but he nonetheless does not seek to leave the EU and he will campaign to remain in the European Union with a renegotiated operating platform. A recent YouGov survey shows that those who want to stay in the EU (40%) outnumber those who wish to leave (38%), for the first time since Cameron became Prime Minister. It is not yet certain whether this is evidence of a decisive trend in opinion or a blip, but certainly the bookies endorse the survey’s results. Only two bookmakers are currently in the market and although their odds do differ the message is the same. Bookmaker William Hill reckons the public will vote to stay in the EU, with odds of 1/3, and Paddy Power concurs with longer odds of 8/13. Conversely, the odds of a public vote to leave are 9/4 from William Hill and 6/5 from Paddy Power.
Although the referendum of EU membership is intended to take place in 2017, allowing for much ebbing and flowing of both the debate and the voting intentions of the public, the Prime Minister may need all of this extended time frame to argue and win his case in Parliament, in Europe and, most importantly, with the public of the United Kingdom. The leaders of the world will look on with concern as they seek to return global markets to stability and growth. The US President, Barack Obama, warns that Britain must remain part of a “strong European Union” but he, too, must now join the rest of the world to wait and see the referendum outcome.