By Matthew Barrett
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Earlier this week, the Spectator's James Forsyth (and our own Paul Goodman) helped start a debate about whether a European referendum could be proposed for the 2015 general election. This topic was continued by several commentators – including John Rentoul in this morning's Independent on Sunday, who says "I cannot believe that Cameron wants to hold a referendum that could easily take Britain out of the EU. But I can believe that Osborne, looking for support for his future leadership on the Tory back benches, might push him into it.".
However, in this morning's Sunday Telegraph, an interview with William Hague – who, as Foreign Secretary, is in charge of European policy, after all – rather steps back from the possibility of a referendum at the next election. He firstly seems to dismiss the idea of any specific manifesto pledge – at this stage, at least:
“Well we haven’t started on the next manifesto. We have three years, literally three years this week, to the next general election. So we haven’t started on that. And before that, of course, will come the European Elections, in 2014, so that manifesto will come first. But we literally haven’t started on it. It would be misleading, as well as unfair to my colleagues, for me to start saying what will be in that manifesto. Clearly, having been the author of the Act that we passed last year, which says that if any more powers are transferred to the EU there must be a referendum, I believe there are circumstances where you have a referendum.
He continues, disagreeing with the substance of the referendum issue:
"And I tend to the view that we’ve have too few, not too many, referendums on Europe. “ However, he declares that a referendum now on leaving the EU (the subject of a rebellion by 81 Tory MPs in the Commons last year) is the “wrong question at the wrong time – partly because we don’t know how Europe will develop over the next few years.” He adds: “For us, Europe is not the euro. Europe is the single market, which is there, irrespective of the euro. It’s the positive effect that it has on countries that want to join it, and it’s still having that positive effect in the countries of the Western Balkans. So, it’s very important to make a success of those things.”
You can read the full interview here.