Stoking the fire of the EU debate, the PM said that it is time for the British people to ‘have their say’ on membership of the bloc, pledging a straight yes or no ballot if the Tories win the next election in 2015.
He said: ‘It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics. I say to the British people: this will be your decision.’
He did clarify that he will seek to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU before extending the vote to the British people, and if he was satisfied with a re-jigged setup, he would campaign with his ‘heart and soul’ for the UK to stay in the bloc.
Cameron said that there was a sense of ‘disillusionment’ with the EU in the UK, and added that ‘simply asking the British people to carry on accepting a European settlement over which they have had little choice’ would precipitate a national desire to leave the EU.
‘That is not why I am in favour of a referendum, he said, but ‘I believe in confronting this issue – shaping it leading the debate. Not simply hoping a difficult situation will go away.’
The speech was delivered to the chagrin of the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, who said: ‘You can’t do Europe a la carte. To take an example which our British friends will understand – imagine Europe is a football club and you join, once you’re in it you can’t say ‘let’s play rugby’.’
Regardless of whether you think the referendum is the right way forward, Cameron is walking a political tightrope from which several former prime ministers have tumbled spectacularly in the past. With a pledge like this, he may have put himself in some hot water, further down the line.