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Cameron's historic pledge to Britain --- Vote Conservative and you'll get an In/Out referendum on Europe

By Tim Montgomerie
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PAPERSPublished below are some embargoed extracts of the Prime Minister's much anticipated speech on Europe. It won't be everything that every Eurosceptic wants but it contains a clear commitment to renegotiate and then hold a post-negotiation referendum on whether the British people wish to stay inside the EU.

The PM does not go quite as far as ConHome wanted the PM to go. We hoped he would try and put a referendum law on to the statute book before the next election ('the John Baron MP plan') but the PM does promise to (i) draft referendum legislation before the next election, (ii) make the referendum pledge a key issue at the next election and (iii) then legislate for it as a priority of any Conservative government. We have to give Cameron at least two-and-a-half out of three therefore in meeting our wish list for the speech.

Lots more analysis to come on ConHome but here are those extracts (with, in places, my emphases):

The key pledge: “The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament.  And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether.  It will be an in-out referendum. Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative Government is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately and pass it by the end of that year. And we will complete this negotiation and hold this referendum within the first half of the next parliament."

And then some of Mr Cameron's reasoning...

Many British people think Europe is heading in the wrong direction and they never signed up to its new ambitions: “Today, public disillusionment with the EU is at an all time high. There are several reasons for this. People feel that the EU is heading in a direction that they never signed up to. They resent the interference in our national life by what they see as unnecessary rules and regulation. And they wonder what the point of it all is. The result is that democratic consent for the EU in Britain is now wafer thin."

It is more likely that Britain will leave the EU if the people continue to be denied a say on Europe's direction: "Some people say that to point this out is irresponsible, creates uncertainty for business and puts a question mark over Britain’s place in the European Union. But the question mark is already there and ignoring it won’t make it go away. In fact, quite the reverse. Those who refuse to contemplate consulting the British people, would in my view make more likely our eventual exit. Simply asking the British people to carry on accepting a European settlement over which they have had little choice is a path to ensuring that when the question is finally put – and at some stage it will have to be – it is much more likely that the British people will reject the EU."

There should be an In/Out referendum but only when it is clear what the post-crisis EU looks like: "Some argue that the solution is therefore to hold a straight in-out referendum now. I understand the impatience of wanting to make that choice immediately. But I don’t believe that to make a decision at this moment is the right way forward, either for Britain or for Europe as a whole. A vote today between the status quo and leaving would be an entirely false choice. It is wrong to ask people whether to stay or go before we have had a chance to put the relationship right. How can we sensibly answer the question ‘in or out’, without being able to answer the most basic question: ‘what is it exactly that we are choosing to be in or out of?' The European Union that emerges from the Eurozone crisis is going to be a very different body. It will be transformed perhaps beyond recognition by the measures needed to save the Eurozone. We need to allow some time for that to happen – and help to shape the future of the European Union, so that when the choice comes it will be a real one.”

The big thing missing from the extracts (and hopefully not the speech) is a statement of the kind of renegotiated relationship that David Cameron wants with Europe. I hope it's similar to that already being set out by the Fresh Start group of Tory MPs. It may be that the PM will not begin to set out his renegotiating strategy yet. His argument may be that with so much changing in Europe the referendum must simply follow whatever the rest of Europe chooses to build and what concessions we can extract (if any) in return for green lighting the changes they want.

What is now clear, however, is that the Labour and the Liberal Democrats are unwilling to give the British people a say on our membership of the EU. The United Kingdom Independence Party is too small to deliver it. Only a vote for Conservative candidates will give the British people the say on Europe that they've been denied for far too long.

The speech will be delivered at 8am today (Wednesday).


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