There is no question that the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech in January, promising the British people an in-out referendum on membership of the EU, was of the utmost significance. The speech was a game-changer despite the caveats attached to the promised referendum. Mr Cameron’s proposed timing was after the next General Election, by the end of 2017, which would require a Conservative victory in 2015. And he would allow the referendum after renegotiating the repatriation of certain powers from the EU, which many regard as something of a smokescreen. But, no matter, a firing pistol of sorts has been fired.
The referendum debate is gathering momentum. James Wharton MP’s European Union (Referendum) Bill was overwhelmingly supported (304-0) on second reading on 5 July, though it is likely to fall at future hurdles in the legislative process. And the pressures on Ed Miliband to provide a referendum can only increase. He will not want to be seen as the party leader who denies the electorate a democratic choice on Europe even though there are clear dangers for him. If he is the Prime Minister after the 2015 election, an “out” result in an EU referendum could be highly problematic, though it would, obviously, depend how he handled it.