Sunday 24 September 2017

Cameron faces revolt as EU referendum plans still unclear

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron addresses a news conference after an European Union leaders summit in Brussels. Photo: Reuters
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron addresses a news conference after an European Union leaders summit in Brussels. Photo: Reuters

Rowena Mason

BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron will face a record rebellion over Europe unless he clears up his confused plans for a referendum, Conservative MPs warned last night.

Mr Cameron caused controversy after he backed the idea of a poll on Europe "when the time is right" -- probably after the next general election.

Mr Cameron said that for the first time "the two words Europe and referendum can go together".

His comments appeared to signal a step-change in his attitude to Europe, after 100 MPs urged him to create a new relationship with Brussels.

However, many Eurosceptic MPs were not satisfied yesterday, urging Mr Cameron to make an explicit commitment to a referendum on leaving the European Union and "get on with it" sooner than 2015.

It also opened up fault lines within the coalition, as Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, called the idea "horribly irrelevant".

Confusion

The position was further thrown into confusion as Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted that Mr Cameron was simply developing his thinking rather than changing the party's policy.

Mr Hague said there was a powerful case for a referendum but no decision could be taken until Europe had sorted out its debt problems.

"The time to decide in a referendum is when we know how Europe's going to develop and when we know whether we're going to get a better relationship," he told 'The Andrew Marr Show' on BBC One. "We want people to have their say when they have a real choice in front of them."

Labour accused the government of presiding over a "shambles", as a number of Conservative MPs suggested they were unhappy with Mr Cameron's position.

Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, will today claim that Britain's "national interest is at stake" because the power of the government is being "curtailed by dictat from Brussels".

"We should not wait for EU leaders to recognise the failure of the ill-conceived euro before we set out what we want for the British people," he will say. "Britain's destiny is not a debating issue for leaders on the continent."

Downing Street said it was too early to confirm the wording or timing of any possible referendum. Mr Cameron has said repeatedly that he is not in favour of a straightforward question on whether Britain should be in the EU.

He raised the possibility that Britons could be asked whether they want a looser relationship with Europe at or after the next election.

Promise

If the Conservative Party makes an election promise to distance itself from Europe, a general election could be enough to decide the issue, he said.

Mr Cameron said Britain was in danger of becoming swamped by EU legislation and bureaucracy which he would like to have scrapped. He made it clear for the first time that changes will need the "full-hearted support of the British people".

Irish Independent

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