David Cameron will face a record rebellion over Europe unless he clears up his confused plans for a referendum, Conservative MPs warned.
9:50PM BST 01 Jul 2012
In an article for The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Cameron said that for the first time “the two words Europe and referendum can go together”. His comments appeared to signal a step-change in the Conservative’s attitude to Europe, after 100 MPs urged him to create a new relationship with Brussels.
Many Eurosceptic MPs were not satisfied, urging Mr Cameron to make a commitment to a referendum on leaving the European Union before 2015. Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, called the idea “horribly irrelevant”.
The position was further thrown into confusion as William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, insisted that the Prime Minister was simply developing his thinking rather than changing the party’s policy.
Mr Hague said there was a powerful case for a referendum but no decision could be taken until Europe had sorted out its debt problems.
Lord Strathclyde, the leader of the Conservatives in the House of Lords, said: “I think we are closer to a referendum than we were, but what we are not [clear about] yet is what the basis of that referendum is going to be.”
Labour accused the Government of presiding over a shambles, as a number of Conservative MPs suggested they were unhappy.
Dr Liam Fox, the former Defence Secretary, will today claim that Britain’s “national interest is at stake” because Government power is being “curtailed by diktat from Brussels”.
“We should not wait for EU leaders to recognise the failure of the ill-conceived euro before we set out what we want for the British people,” he will say. “Britain’s destiny is not a debating issue for leaders on the Continent.”
Mark Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin, said he hoped the new position would cause a record rebellion of MPs, much greater than the 81 Conservatives who voted against the Government last year.
He said the Prime Minister needs to deliver more than promises of “jam tomorrow”.
John Redwood, MP for Wokingham, said it was a step in the right direction, but Mr Cameron needed to “get on with” renegotiating the relationship.
Downing Street said it was too early to confirm the wording or timing of any possible referendum.
The Prime Minister has said repeatedly that he is not in favour of a straight-forward question on whether Britain should be in the EU.
If the Conservative Party makes an election promise to distance itself, a general election may be enough to decide the issue, he said.
In the article, Mr Cameron made clear for the first time that the changes would need the support of the British people.
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- Daniel Hannan: we’re nearly there on an In/Out referendum01 Jul 2012
- Douglas Alexander: EU referendum suggestion is a ‘shambles’01 Jul 2012
- EU: New Tory battle lines drawn30 Jun 2012
- Liam Fox: No more waiting – we must renegotiate our position30 Jun 2012