By Paul Goodman
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"I completely understand why some people want an in/out referendum. Some people just want to get out: stop the bus, I want to get off."But I don't share that view. That is not the right thing to do. The problem with an in/out referendum is that it only gives people those two choices. You can stay either in with all the status quo or you can get out."
Tomorrow, he writes in the Sunday Telegraph:
“As we get closer to the end point we will need to consider how best to get the full-hearted support of the British people, whether it is in a general election or a referendum. As I have said, for me the two words 'Europe’ and 'referendum’ can go together, particularly if we really are proposing a change in how our country is governed, but let us get the people a real choice first.”
There is no logical contradiction between opposing an In/Out referendum and supporting a renegotiation referendum (though Mr Cameron doesn't go quite that far). But Downing Street recognises that tacking one way about a referendum at a Brussels press conference has angered much of his party…and so he is tacking the other tomorrow. According to the paper –
"His comments alarmed many in his party with backbenchers predicting he would have to perform a U-turn. Senior advisers to Mr Cameron insisted last night that this [his remarks in Brussels about an In-Out referendum] misrepresented his views and that he would use his article to set out his true thinking – that a referendum was possible when the time was right."
The Sunday Telegraph reports that detailed plans for repatriating powers – "a key point of difference between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats" – are likely to be spelled out in the Conservative manifesto either for the 2014 European parliamentary elections or the 2015 general election, or both.
And fast following the letter calling for an referendum of some kind organised by John Baron MP and signed by 100 of his colleagues comes a speech on Monday by Liam Fox. The former Defence Secretary will argue that any rejection by other EU members of a British renegotiation offer should lead to the exit door: “For my own part," he will say, "life outside the EU holds no terror."
I wrote this morning that the Prime Minister:
"…knows an In-Out poll would split his party, while a renegotiation one would keep in together. I've written before that we are inching nearer such a referendum, and the letter demanding a poll of some kind organised by John Baron, which gained the backing of over 100 Tory MPs, has done nothing to change my mind. Mr Cameron will find it very hard to keep such a commitment out of the next Tory manifesto, particularly given the views of his Chancellor, not to mention the latter's leadership ambitions…"
It's hard to add anything useful to that – other than that the last 48 hours have seen Mr Cameron's most explicit rejection of an In-Out referendum and most adventurous flirtation with a renegotiation one to date. Remember: he isn't driving events. The agony of the Euro, the instincts of his party, and his own uncertain electoral prospects are doing so.
The horses, not the coachman, are driving the carriage where they will…