14 Jan 2013

Cameron: time for ‘proper choice’ on Europe

Prime Minister David Cameron brings forward the date of his long-awaited speech on the relationship between Britain and Europe, when he plans to offer people a “proper choice” on the future.

The prime minister was set to make his speech next week but announced on Twitter that instead he will make it this Friday, in the Netherlands.

What David Cameron is saying has been making waves for weeks because he is expected to use the speech to set out plans for a referendum on a new British settlement with Brussels after the next general election in 2015.

Mr Cameron wants the UK to remain in the European Union, but he feels the relationship needs to change. He will explain exactly how on Friday, in what some are calling the most important foreign policy speech of his premiership. The speech has already sparked warnings from Lord Heseltine, the United States, and Germany.

His spokesman said: “The prime minister wants to set out his views on the future of the European Union, how it needs to develop and how Britain’s relationship with it needs to develop… He sees it as important to set out his view about it being in the British national interest to remain in the EU, but with a changed relationship.”

Politically, Mr Cameron is hoping his version of the referendum – which he insists is not an “in or out” question – will keep Britain in the EU but at the same time satisfy the Eurosceptics within his own party, as well as those in the wider population, many of whom have turned to Ukip in recent years.

Anniversary clash?

It had previously been thought that Mr Cameron was going to give his speech on 22 January, although this date was never confirmed. Some reports suggested that the date was brought forward to avoid clashing with an anniversary celebrating 50 years of Franco-German friendship. It has been half a century since the 1963 Elysee treaty, which formally established reconciliation between the two countries after World War II.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is not expected to attend, despite the fact that the speech is in the Netherlands.

Speaking earlier today, Mr Cameron said he hoped the speech would lead to a “proper choice” on Europe for the British people.

“The principle, I think, should be this: if you are fundamentally changing the relationship between Britain and Europe, then you should be having a referendum,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“You will have to wait for the speech for the full details but obviously I want to give people a proper choice,” he added.