Rory Broomfield is Director of The Freedom Association, where he is Director of the Better Off Out campaign.
Speculation has been sparked about a referendum in 2016, should the Conservatives win the next General Election. Those of us who are sceptical about the benefits of EU membership will be ready to fight the referendum campaign whenever it comes. But is a date as early as 2016 really credible given what the Prime Minister has previously said on the matter?
The Sunday Times reported an unnamed Minister saying a referendum in 2016 was “the preferred option”. This seems to be reinforced by the calls made by John Longworth, Director of the British Chambers of Commerce and by Boris Johnson. However, in the Telegraph, David Cameron wrote that when he has renegotiated a plan to transform the European Union and Britain’s relationship with it, “I would then campaign for Britain to remain in this reformed EU in 2017.”
The key in that quote is “in 2017”, but it is also the idea of transforming the EU and the UK’s relationship with it.
In his Bloomberg speech, the Prime Minister said:
“The European Treaty commits the Member States to “lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”. This has been consistently interpreted as applying not to the peoples but rather to the states and institutions compounded by a European Court of Justice that has consistently supported greater centralisation. We understand and respect the right of others to maintain their commitment to this goal. But for Britain – and perhaps for others – it is not the objective. And we would be much more comfortable if the Treaty specifically said so freeing those who want to go further, faster, to do so, without being held back by the others.”
“And we would be much more comfortable if the Treaty specifically said so…”
In essence: Cameron has said that he wants Treaty change concerning ever-closer union.
Of course, some might that think this can be done by an agreement at the European Council, although others might say that such promises aren’t worth the paper they aren’t written on. The same may also apply for what the Prime Minister said in his immigration speech last November:
“They [the electorate] want control over who has the right to receive benefits and what is expected of them in return.”
The issue of in-work benefits and who pays for whom is a tricky one and, of course, the mood music coming from the spin rooms is that countries across the EU are open to changing this. Indeed, as Peter Hoskin wrote on ConservativeHome, Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, is said to be more “optimistic” about achieving this and other reforms.
Nonetheless, if the Prime Minister is to seek a real change in the UK’s relationship with the EU it must be to an extent that Treaty change would be necessary. For this, Dan Hannan MEP has set out a number of areas over which the UK should have control.
Indeed, other demands have also come from groups like Business for Britain. Matthew Elliott wrote on ConservativeHome that there are ten clear changes that he believes are needed.
It means that the Prime Minister already has a shopping list of things which he should get back. If he wants to “deliver the change Britain and Europe need” in the UK’s relationship with the EU – as he says he does – he must act on these recommendations.
If a Cameron-led government doesn’t act on these – at the very minimum – then there is no way that it could obtain the significant change that he says he seeks. That is all going to take time and effort. No meaningful renegotiation could be completed in time for a 2016 referendum.
Eurosceptics will be ready whenever a referendum is held. However, David Cameron’s actions should be true to his words. Anything less would mean a failed renegotiation.