Cameron to promise Britons straight choice on EU exit

Tue Jan 22, 2013 6:52pm EST
 
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By Andrew Osborn and Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron will promise on Wednesday to give Britons a straight referendum choice on whether to stay in the European Union or leave, provided he wins an election in 2015.

Cameron will end months of speculation by announcing in a speech the plan for a vote sometime between 2015 and 2018, shrugging off warnings that this could imperil Britain's diplomatic and economic prospects and alienate its allies.

In extracts of the speech released in advance by his office, Cameron said public disillusionment with the EU is at "an all-time high".

"It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics," he said in the extracts, adding that his Conservative party would campaign for the 2015 election promising to renegotiate Britain's EU membership.

"And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether. It will be an in-out referendum."

Whether Cameron will ever hold the referendum remains as uncertain as the Conservatives' chances of winning the next election due in 2015.

They trail the opposition Labour party in opinion polls, and the coalition government is pushing through painful public spending cuts to try to reduce Britain's large budget deficit that are likely to upset voters in the meantime.

Cameron's promise looks likely to satisfy much of his own party, which has been split on the issue, but may create uncertainty when events could put his preferred option - a looser version of full British membership - out of reach.   Continued...

 
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron walks out of 10 Downing Street to greet Qatar Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in central London, January 22, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Winning