European leaders are in Norway to celebrate the award of the Nobel peace prize to the EU – as it emerges an absent David Cameron is to set out plans for a repatriation of powers and an EU referendum.
Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon has learned that the British prime minister is planning a speech that will set out plans for a repatriation of powers from Europe back to Westminster and an in/out referendum on Europe for the next election.
The EU was honoured earlier in the day at a ceremony in Oslo for building a “continent of peace” following two world wars, in the midst of a debt crisis that is proving to be Europe’s greatest challenge since 1945.
The prize was presented to the heads of the EU’s three main institutions: Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and other European leaders also attended. But Mr Cameron was absent, with Britain represented in the Norwegian capital by Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg.
Back in London, Mr Cameron’s party is debating a referendum that could see Britain leave the EU.
Former defence secretary Liam Fox said in a speech today that he hopes “back to a common market” will be the Tories’ slogan at the next election.
Dr Fox wants the prime minister to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, with the option of pulling out.
He said: “To be frank, if the choice is between the current trajectory towards ever closer union and leaving, then I would choose to leave, albeit reluctantly.
“If the choice is between a looser, more economic relationship and leaving, then I would choose to stay.”
British tweeters appear unimpressed by the award of the Nobel peace prize to the European Union (EU). And with the prospect of a future referendum on the UK’s EU membership, the nation’s European spirit may be wavering.
Lawrence Mitchell, from Manchester, tweeted: “The EU has caused misery to many, causing riots across Europe whom are members of this anti democratic super state. Peaceful?”
Representing Britain was Nick Clegg, the current deputy prime minister, and some voices on Twitter suggested that David Cameron‘s “European partner”, as described by some, was not the ideal choice as he has done little for the continental project.
The award for the EU also generated mixed reactions from within Sweden – the birthplace of the Nobel prize. Mike Hunt from Uppsala tweeted: “Awarding EU with the peace prize, is like awarding Adolf Hitler for improving the railroads, but ignoring the rest of his actions.”
And the prize itself was not viewed by some as an institution necessarily worthy of respect. “Some people decide who will be awarded a prize which was instigated by a dynamite-making man from my home county,” said Britt Warg, a Swede who has lived in the UK since 1998.
In October, Mr Cameron said he wanted to negotiate a “fresh settlement” with the EU’s other 26 members, possibly putting this to the voters in a referendum, but he made it clear that he opposed the British people being given a straightforward “in/out” choice.
Despite his words, his Conservative colleague, London Mayor Boris Johnson, told Sky’s Murnaghan programme on Sunday that voters were likely to be given “in/out” options on the new terms Mr Cameron was hoping to negotiate.
Mr Cameron is expected to make an announcement in a speech next week or just after the Christmas break.
Pressure on the prime minister to take a tougher line on the EU has increased since November’s parliamentary by-elections, where Ukip achieved its best ever showing at the ballot box.
Ukip, which is in favour of British withdrawal, came second to Labour in Middlesbrough and Rotherham, polling a record 21.8 per cent of the vote in the south Yorkshire town.
EU states are currently debating what action to take as they attempt to get a grip on a debt crisis that has led to bailouts for Ireland, Portugal and Greece, and fears that other countries could also be forced to seek help.
The latest manoeuvring comes just days before a key EU summit where leaders will hold talks on a banking union for eurozone countries.
In December 2011, Mr Cameron used Britain’s veto at a European summit after failing to win assurances from other member states that the City of London would not be bound by a new financial transactions tax.
This meant any changes could not be included in a new treaty, but Europe’s other leaders said they would press on without British support by signing an accord creating a so-called “fiscal compact” that would lead to automatic fines for countries borrowing too much.