Prime Minister David Cameron will make his delayed speech on plans to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union and hold a referendum on the outcome in London on the morning of Jan. 23.
Cameron was originally due to make the speech in Amsterdam three days ago, though he was forced to postpone it to this week because of the hostage crisis at a gas plant in Algeria in which as many as six Britons may have died.
Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, announced the new date in a briefing for reporters in London today. Asked whether the speech would mention the possibility of a referendum on quitting the 27-nation bloc, as some in the premier’s Conservative Party are demanding, Gray said that “on the speech content, you are going to have to wait till he delivers it.”
Extracts from the speech released by the premier’s office last week put 40 years of integration with the continent on the line by raising the specter of a U.K. exit from the EU. “More of the same” won’t be enough to guarantee the EU’s future because of British dismay at a lack of consent to their alliance within the 27-nation bloc, Cameron planned to say.
“There are changes we want in that relationship, but we also need to see how the changes in the euro zone are affecting the European Union, how that affects this country,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said yesterday.
“When we have done those things, there is a strong case for fresh consent in this country, for the people of this country having their say,” Hague told BBC television. “It’s about the interests of this country, about making a success of membership of the European Union but also with democratic consent for that in its modern form, in the best form that we can bring about.”
Cameron is responding to pressure from Tory lawmakers for looser ties with the EU or an outright departure from the union. In 2011, they defied him in record numbers in parliament with a failed bid to force a referendum on leaving the EU.
A YouGov Plc poll for yesterday’s Sunday Times newspaper found 40 percent of respondents saying they would vote to stay in the EU compared with 34 percent who say they would vote to leave. YouGov polled 1,912 adults on Jan. 17 and Jan. 18.
The company found at the start of the month that 46 percent would vote to leave compared with 31 percent who would vote to stay in, in line with surveys throughout 2012, YouGov’s Anthony Wells said on his U.K. Polling Report website.
“In the last fortnight some will obviously have thought a little more about it as a referendum becomes a more likely possibility,” Wells wrote.
Liam Fox, Cameron’s former defense secretary, told BBC television he was briefed on the speech and “was broadly satisfied with what I saw.”
Fox, who said he’d like to see British ties with the EU reduced to “a basic economic relationship,” told the BBC that “if that is the speech that is finally delivered, a great many of us will think that it’s a speech that we’ve been waiting a long time for any prime minister to deliver.”
EU President Herman Van Rompuy said last week that local politics should take more of a back seat.
“European interests should always be the most important,” the former Belgian prime minister said. “The European Union doesn’t just mean taking account of national concerns.”
Cameron planned to say that the deepening integration of the 17 euro countries, which don’t include Britain, and the demands of global competition raise “fundamental questions” about the nature of the U.K.’s relationship with the EU.
“People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent,” Cameron was due to say.
Cameron will meet today with Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip as part of a series of conversations with EU leaders in the run-up to his speech, Gray said. He may also phone others as he pursues a diplomatic drive. Europe Minister David Lidington travels to Dublin today to meet Irish ministers. Ireland currently holds the EU presidency.
Both Cameron’s Liberal Democrat coalition partners and the opposition Labour Party oppose his push to loosen ties with Europe, saying he risks investor confidence and London’s role as a financial center.
“I do hope that they bring clarity, but I hope that they exercise a judgment not based on party interest but the national interest,” Labour’s foreign-affairs spokesman, Douglas Alexander, told Sky News television yesterday.