In an article for the Sunday Telegraph David Cameron said that he was open to the possibility of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. While Cameron said that he is against the UK leaving the E.U. and has some reservations about holding an in/out referendum, he acknowledged that that the British people needed “a real choice”:
As we get closer to the end point, we will need to consider how best to get the full-hearted support of the British people whether it is in a general election or in a referendum.
As I have said, for me the two words “Europe” and “referendum” can go together, particularly if we really are proposing a change in how our country is governed, but let us get the people a real choice first.
Cameron’s acceptance of a potential referendum on the UK’s membership of the E.U. is a long overdue move. Yet, it may prove to be one of the bitterest disputes between the Conservatives and their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.
In response to Cameron’s article high profile politicians came out in support of a membership referendum, while UKIP, the anti-E.U. party, has dismissed the article as pandering. Former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, has said that the UK should leave the E.U., while other Tory MPs have said that Conservative weakness on the issue means that they may lose voters to UKIP, increasing the possibility of a Labour win in the next general election. A recent YouGov poll put Labour ahead of the Conservatives by nine percent and the Liberal Democrats polling at a woeful nine percent. Sixty two percent of those polled disapprove of the Coalition Government’s performance.
It is looking increasingly unlikely that the coalition will last its full term to 2015. A mutual fear and hatred of Labour is all that is keeping the government together. Reform of the House of Lords is straining the already tenuous relationship, and a referendum on E.U. membership would almost certainly push the Europhilic Liberal Democrats into leaving the government. Vince Cable, a hero of the social democratic wing of the Liberal Democrats and Business Secretary, has said:
Reopening a big debate about Britain being in or out the European Union and the referendum associated with it is horribly irrelevant at a time of upheaval taking place in Europe
As recent events have shown, the political class in Europe is trying to address the euro crisis with more integration and closer fiscal union. Polls consistently show that the British people do not want to be part of an organization that is slowly hamstringing itself while dissolving national soverignty and democracy. Over eighty percent of Britons want a referendum on E.U. membership, and over half would vote to leave. An in/out referendum is overdue and was promised years ago, Cameron should offer it sooner rather than later.