By Tim Montgomerie
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Policing minister Nick Herbert has given an interview to The Times (£) and coverage has focused on his remarks about gay marriage but I was more struck by what he said about a referendum on Europe.
Mr Herbert has impeccable Eurosceptic credentials – having helped mastermind the No to the Euro campaign in the 1990s. In a sign of how far and fast the referendum debate has moved inside the Conservative Party since 81 Tory MPs rebelled last year, you now have a minister openly supporting giving the British people a say on our relationship with Europe and saying that it's a matter of trust, not just constitutional.
Here are his exact words:
“I believe that ultimately it would be right to give the British people a decision over fundamental questions about our relationship with Europe… it’s important to resettle our relationship… There’s a growing public demand. I think we are approaching the point where that say will have to be given… This is not just an issue about our relationship with the European Union and how we are governed, it’s also an issue of trust and whether people have the sense that the political class are taking the decisions for them.”
The Times reports that Mr Herbert does not want what he calls a “polarised, in-out question – the British public wants to be part of a sensible economic arrangement but not subsumed within a political organisation”.
If Europe doesn't agree to a substantial renegotiation, the question might nonetheless become one of in or out.